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EU ends airplane cellphone ban

US has no plans to follow suit

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Associated Press / April 8, 2008

BRUSSELS - You will be able to use your cellphone in the skies over Europe this year under new rules that will allow air travelers to stay in touch - and raise the cringe-inducing prospect of sitting next to a chatterbox at 30,000 feet.

But don't expect to use your phone on a US flight anytime soon.

The decision yesterday by the European Union makes the 27-nation bloc the first region in the world to scrap bans on the use of cellphones in the sky. The EU insists the change will not compromise safety.

Cellphone calls will be connected through an onboard base station - think of a miniature cellphone tower - linked to a satellite and then to ground networks. A flight's captain will have the power to turn off service at any time.

Phone service will be blocked during takeoff and landing, EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said. The means using your cellphone will fall under roughly the same restrictions as using your laptop or iPod.

EU officials also say the system has been thoroughly tested. They say the calls will not interfere with flight navigation and will have additional safeguards to protect against terrorism.

Meanwhile, travelers are already expressing concern about another kind of disruption: noisy passengers. The friendly skies are one of the last refuges against shrill ringtones and yapping callers.

"If they use a mobile phone on long-distance flights, it would be an inconvenience, especially at night," said Stein Smulders of Belgium, who commutes by train.

In the United States, cellphone use on flights is banned by two regulatory agencies. Yesterday, both said they had no plans to change their rules.

Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the agency had a concern that the phones could interfere with planes' electronic equipment.

"The bottom line for us is that the FAA has no plans to allow passengers to use cellphones on commercial flights," Duquette said.

The Federal Communications Commission also bans cellphone use on flights, out of concern for interfering with cellphone networks on the ground. That agency opened a review of the issue in 2004 but ended it last year without taking action.

In Europe, travelers will be allowed to turn on their phones after planes climb past 10,000 feet. That's when other electronic devices are typically permitted.

The new EU rules were welcomed by airlines, some of which, such as Air France-KLM, had already launched a trial of in-flight phone service.

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