Cellphones fly on Airbus

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 20 Jun 2007

Aircraft maker Airbus has received airworthiness certification for a cellphone system on board its aircraft.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved Airbus' GSM on-board system for use on Monday, says Airbus SA spokesman Linden Birns.

This means passengers and crew in aircraft fitted with Airbus' OnAir system will be able to use BlackBerry devices and mobile phones during flights over Europe, Birns says. The service is to be rolled out on Airbus single aisle aircraft on short-haul flights in Western Europe.

"Passengers will be able to make and receive calls in addition to being able to send and receive e-mails and text messages. Cabin crew can easily manage the service and have the option of selecting a 'voice-off' mode, which only allows SMS text messaging and e-mail services," he says.

The EASA airworthiness certification comes after successful tests were carried out by Airbus earlier this year and confirmed the GSM on-board system's compatibility in the aircraft environment. Airbus is the first OEM to receive the certification.

"This certification is Airbus' first response to the growing market demand for on-board connectivity," says Rainer von Borstel, Airbus senior VP of cabin and cargo customisation. "It paves the way for the subsequent worldwide deployment of cellphone services and Internet-based services across all Airbus aircraft types," he adds.

Cellphones have long been banned on aircraft for the alleged interference they may cause to on-board avionics. The US Federal Aviation Authority earlier this year extended the ban in American airspace because it said cellphones could not be proven safe for use in flight.

The wikipedia notes the US Federal Communications Commission also prohibits the use of mobile telephones aboard aircraft in flight for the havoc it can cause on the ground. Cellphone systems depend on channel reuse and operating a phone at altitude may cause multiple towers to assume the phone is under their control.

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