November 22, 2013

FCC head wants changes to cellphone rules on planes

He draws protests from flight attendants and airline officials.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Rules against making cellphone calls during airline flights are “outdated,” and it’s time to change them, federal regulators said Thursday, drawing immediate howls of protest from flight attendants, airline officials and others.

click image to enlarge

In this Oct. 31 photo, a passenger checks her cell phone before a flight in Boston. Federal regulators said Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, that rules against making cellphone calls during airline flights are “outdated,” and it’s time to change them. The Federal Aviation Administration recently lifted restrictions on the use of most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, but not cellphone calls, which fall under the FCC.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Thursday that the commission was proposing greater in-flight access to mobile broadband. The proposal will be considered at the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting.

“The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” Wheeler said, adding that modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably.

The proposal would also allow passengers to use their smartphones to send email, text and download data.

The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet in altitude, but not during takeoffs and landings.

The move came just 16 days after Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellular telephone industry, took over the post of FCC chairman. The proposal to ease cellphone restrictions was greeted enthusiastically by the Telecommunications Industry Association.

But early reaction from the airline industry and labor unions was skeptical.

Flight attendants and others have worried that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.

“Passengers overwhelmingly reject cellphone use in the aircraft cabin. The FCC should not proceed with this proposal,” the Association of Flight Attendants said.

“In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky,” the flight attendants group said.

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