EU Regulators Approve In-Flight Mobile Calls

Associated Press

The European Union on Monday opened the way for air travelers to use mobile phones to talk, text or send e-mails on planes throughout Europe's airspace.

With the approval by EU regulators, airlines will be able to launch onboard mobile services later this year, officials said.

Viviane Reding, the EU's telecommunications commissioner, warned phone operators not to set rates for the service too high and urged airlines to protect passengers from excessive phone use.

"In-flight mobile phone services can be a very interesting new service especially for those business travelers who need to be ready to communicate wherever they are," Reding said.

"However, if consumers receive shock phone bills, the service will not take off." The European Commission, the EU's executive body, said it will keep a close eye to ensure pricing is transparent.

Several airlines, including Air France, have already launched a trial of in-flight mobile phone services on some European routes.

British Midland Airways, Portugal's TAP and low-cost airline Ryanair are also planning to offer services later this year.

Customers Against It

Germany's Lufthansa, however, said Monday it does not want to introduce the service. Surveys had shown that a large majority of customers were against it, Lufthansa spokesman Jan Baerwalde said.

"People don't want to be disturbed," Baerwalde said.

Lufthansa will, however, look at providing fast Internet access on its planes, a service it already offered from 2004 until the end of 2006.

The airline is currently looking for a new service partner to reintroduce the service.

The regulation sets a common standard by which passengers can safely use their mobile phones during flights and airlines will only need to get one license to launch their services across the entire 27-nation bloc.

Most services that are being rolled out this year are being provided by OnAir, a unit of planemaker Airbus.

Their services allow in-air telephone calls above 9,800 feet.

EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said the phone services will not be available during take off or landing or during turbulence.

He said the captain and crew of the plane can control when they want to switch off the onboard network.