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ply for an exemption to the FCC rule be- proval. The approvals include testing to While passengers are welcome to ac-
fore it could allow cell phone use in-flight. show the equipment performs its intended cess the web, U.S. airlines offering WiFi
The FCC proposed modifying this ban in function and doesn’t interfere with any service block the use of in-flight calling
2004, but subsequently withdrew the pro- aircraft systems during all phases of flight. using Skype or similar applications. This
posal based on the comments it received. Typically, airborne WiFi equipment mim- is not an FAA restriction; they are simply
Even if the FCC ever rescinds its ban, ics its earthbound counterparts: routers, responding to the overwhelming majority
FAA regulations would still apply. Any ethernet cables, access ports and other of their customers, who prefer silent com-
installed equipment would be subject to communications hardware, all perma- munications to the public nature of Voice-
FAA certification, just like any other nently installed in the airplane. over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) calls.

piece of hardware. The air carrier would
have to show that the use of a particular
model phone won’t interfere with the nav-
igation and communications systems of
the particular type of aircraft on which it
will be used.
Today, airlines may let passengers use
newer-model cell phones in what’s called
“airplane” mode, which essentially dis-
ables the transmission function so they
can't make calls. This mode lets users do
other things, such as play games, check
an address or look at the phone’s calen-
dar. FAA guidance does let airlines allow
cell phone calls once the plane has landed
and is taxiing to the gate.
Gathering Data
From 2003 to 2006, the RTCA — an
organization the FAA sometimes asks to
help study technical matters that affect
policy and regulatory decisions – looked
at the issue of electromagnetic interfer-
ence from intentionally transmitting
PEDs, such as cell phones and WiFi trans-
mitters in laptops. Air carriers collected
data to support the RTCA’s work.
The final RTCA report said there is in-
sufficient information to support a whole-
sale change in policies that restrict use of
PEDs. But the group did publish thor-
oughly detailed processes by which oper-
ators and manufacturers can assess the
risk of PED interference with aircraft sys-
tems, and similarly detailed guidelines for
certification of such products, if it is re-
quested from the FAA.
WiFi In The Sky
Over the last couple of years, airlines
have responded to travelers’ requests for
in-flight Internet access by installing WiFi
systems that passengers can access (for a
fee) using their laptop computers, Black-
berries and other devices with a WiFi chip.
For each model of aircraft a WiFi sys-
tem is to be used on, a manufacturer must
get FAA certification for the system, and
the airline must get FAA operational ap-
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