Air France is experimenting with cell phone calls on a limited number of European routs. Passengers can send and receive short messages and send and receive e-mails if the phone supports Internet access. At first, travelers won’t be able to make or receive voice calls because of issues with other passengers. Air France hopes to allow voice calls within three months in a way that won’t interfere with other passengers’ comfort and well-being.
A small cellular base station inside the plane routs onboard calls and messages. Messages are sent to a satellite and then to the ground and the phone’s network. The service is supplied by OnAir, a company partially owned by airplane maker Airbus.
Cell phone users must dial as if they are making an international call. Air France hasn’t said how much a call will cost but said it is comparable to traditional mobile rates. Signs are posted telling passengers when to keep their phones off. Messages can’t be sent until the plane rises above 10,000 feet.
Airlines and regulators have been debating cell phone use for years. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has banned mobile phone service on flights. The European Union has taken the opposite line and has approved of cell phone flights. Airlines in other regions, like the Australian operator Qantas, are conducting limited tests of the service.