Geneva | June 16, 2014– With the ending of the FCC’s consultation period on the extension of the access to mobile wireless services onboard aircraft, OnAir is once again urging the telecoms regulator, as well as the FAA, to define the legal framework and to give the decision about inflight cell phone usage to airlines. It is also calling on the Federal Government not to pass legislation banning inflight cell phone use.

“The US authorities have three choices,” said Ian Dawkins, CEO of OnAir. “You can give the airlines the right tools to allow them to decide what services to offer passengers. You can allow airlines from the rest of the world to offer cell phone services when they are in your airspace. The third option is to try to stop progress with a ban.”

It is clear that inflight connectivity is a growing market in the US, as it is across the world. Skift, the leading travel intelligence company, recently published the results of a survey showing that only 18% of air passengers in the US have used inflight connectivity, suggested a significant potential for growth. The survey also showed that 18-24 year olds are the most likely to use inflight connectivity to communicate with their friends, family and colleagues on the ground.

“People embarking on their careers have grown up being able to stay in touch wherever, whenever and however they want,” said Dawkins. “Tomorrow’s business people don’t want to be out of touch just because they are flying, particularly when there is no reason for imposing a ban.”

The evidence is clear. OnAir provides inflight cell phone and Wi-Fi services to 21 airlines around the world, including leading global airlines such as Aeroflot, British Airways, Emirates, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Mobile OnAir, the inflight cell phone service, has flown on millions of flights across the world since 2007, with the full backing of over 100 national authorities. Airlines have the choice of turning off the voice element, leaving mobile data only. They can choose to disable the voice service permanently, or during the plane’s quiet times.

Passengers typically use Mobile OnAir for data – largely email – to update Facebook and Twitter, and for text messaging. Voice calls, which cost around $3-$4 per minute, account for slightly over 10% of total inflight usage and the average call length is under two minutes. Mobile OnAir is currently on around 20,000 flights a month and nearly 700,000 passengers connect to OnAir each month.

Dawkins continued, “Concerns about people using cell phones on planes are misplaced. Mobile OnAir started flying in 2007. Since then, across the world on millions of flights, there hasn’t been a single complaint about disruption caused by people using their cell phones, nor has there been any interference with ground networks or aeronautical systems. And that applies to flights across the world, with people of all nationalities, including Americans.”

OnAir’s is not the only voice calling for airlines to have the choice. The Telecommunications Industry Association, the Information Technology and Industry Council and the Consumer Electronics Association have all called for the authorities to allow carriers to decide what is best for them and for their passengers.

“Passengers have been using their cell phones during flights across the world for nearly seven years,” concluded Dawkins. “The US is at great risk of lagging behind.”

There is going to be quite a kerfuffle in the forthcoming months about inflight telephony. It is gong to be everywhere, in every airport, and on every plane. The proponents: FCC (As of 11/22), airlines (Think ancillary revenue), the service provider (More services = more money), safety pundits (call anyone anytime for help), hardware manufacturers (We can generate more revenue with just a software change) and so on. Then on the other side, the not-so-freindly-toward-inflight-calling crowd: Cabin crew (“Miss, can you move me to another seat I can’t stand this yo-yo next to me yelling on his phone, I’m trying to sleep), and paying passengers (See the cabin crew answer).

So, the jury is out but we see the eventuality of inflight telephony. It works in Europe and Asia, why then is it an issue in the US? In fact, one service provider funded a study in 2007 and the folks at a British university who ran the human factors study used an aircraft simulator and ran almost 250 “passengers” through it – 14 to 66 years old. The simulated one hour flight came complete with “noise” and had the requisite “no phones” signs illuminated during take-off and landing (the study focus). Interestingly 94% used cell phones during the flight, with 66% used voice, 60 also used that, 8% used the internet… and so on. Some 92% liked the idea of “no phones” signage and 86% complied with the message. Some 77% understood the need to set their phones to vibrate (Seven percent didn’t know how to do it). So the desire for inflight telephony sounds like a no brainer, right? Let passengers use their phones, most will follow the signs and everybody is happy, right? Airlines and service providers make more money, passengers get to use their phones and everybody wins. Not so fast… this study was in Europe and happened some six years ago! Lets jump ahead to today in the US and perhaps the ground rules have changed. Forget the cultural differences, we now have more expensive flights, more cramped flying conditions, more ancillary fee’s, smaller seats, the TSA (enough said), crowded airports, no free food, and perhaps a crew that feels the same way as passengers do. Could it be that inflight cell phone usage is the straw that broke the camel’s back? Travelers are ticked off as it is and a plane full of talkers is just going to make the experience worse, we guess. As it turns out, there is a scientific basis for the dislike of hals a dialog from a cellphone conversation. It’s called “halfalogue” and the brain catalogs the effect as an annoyance and there is even some impairment as a result. We don’t like it and we may not even know why.

The above referenced message from the FCC’s Tom Wheeler to use the new technology to it’s fullest was his attempt to “do the right thing” from a utilization point of view. However, and we believe the article referenced above is correct, we assume the FCC was bombarded with calls against the effort – so much so, later Wheeler noted the he personally was not a fan of the idea publicly. To be correct, it is probably a good idea to offer another service that benefits the user of today’s technology-rich devices but airlines that want to give it a try had better be ready for some pushback… potentially a lot of pushback. Scott Mayerowitz wrote in Wireless Week: “Common courtesy goes out the window when people step in that metal tube,” says James Patrick II, a frequent flier from Newnan, GA. “You think the debates and fistfights over reclining the seat back was bad. Wait until guys start slugging it out over someone talking too loud on the phone. That’s one of the reasons the country’s largest flight attendant union has come out against allowing calls in flight. The FCC is proposing to lift an existing ban, and airlines would have to decide whether to let passengers make calls. The ban would remain in effect during takeoff and landing.” Frankly, the only saviors we see on the horizon are personal devices loaded with some broadband spectral noise/music and noise canceling headphones – God bless Apple and Bose!

And speaking of onboard device usage, we picked up a couple tips on inflight device usage that might be helpful. First, an article by Danny Sullivan that pointed out a subtlety in “Airplane Mode” device setting that we missed: “By default, putting a phone or tablet into airplane mode usually disables all connections: cellular, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. But you can toggle Wi-Fi on, with airplane mode still working to leave cellular data off. And that’s fine. Wi-Fi on is good; cellular on is bad.” Further, we called Row 44’s John Guidon and he reminded us that the recent Southwest announcement of gate-to-gate onboard connectivity is greatly aided by the fact that the dish antenna is located on top of the plane with unobstructed view of the overhead satellites… a feature that is certainly plus for sat-based connectivity solutions.

The recent loss of John White caught all of us off guard. Condolences to Martha and his family. We have also linked a short story that Mr.White’s friends and associates might relate to. TJW – Publisher & Co-Founder | IFExpress

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