It has been possible to make telephone calls from a flight for many years now using the planes onboard integrated phone services, though hardly used because of the high costs involved. Times are changing and it will soon be possible to make calls from your cellphone while traveling in an aircraft. This technology will however be billed additionally to std call rates by your service provider and airlines in SA are yet to confirm roll out dates.

Here is an article found on the International Herald Tribute:

Q. How does the technology work?

A. Users of mobile phones and other wireless devices using the European GSM technology with roaming capability will be able to make and receive calls using a base station within the airplane. The onboard network uses very small masts that force all mobile phones to connect to its network, avoiding interference with the plane's avionics or navigation systems. The onboard network provides coverage for the entire aircraft and routes the calls and data to phone networks on the ground via a satellite link. The same satellite link is already being used by the captain and flight crew for communications.

Q. How much will it cost to make an onboard call?

A. Users will be charged by their existing service providers according to rates set by them, the airline and their network operator. European officials have warned consumers to expect higher fees because of the costs involved to set up the onboard networks on planes.

Q. Why is it now safe to use mobile phones during flights?

A. European regulators and the airline industry say new technology developed and tested in recent years has made it safe and secure for passengers to now turn on and use mobile phones during flight, but only when the plane reaches a cruising altitude above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), when other electronic devices such as portable music players and laptops are permitted. They say the new onboard cell network does not interfere with landing, communication or navigation systems and it doesn't pose problems related to security or safety. Mobile phones cannot be used during take off or landing and can be shut off during turbulence. The captain and crew of the plane can control when they want to switch off the onboard network.

Q. What about flights leaving or coming to Europe?

A. It is not yet clear whether airlines will turn off the service once they leave European airspace. The rules of the country where the airline is registered apply when a flight enters international airspace. Mobile phone services could be shut down prior to entering the airspace of other countries like the United States which still bans the use of cell phones during flights.

Q. What about a code of conduct on the use of cell phones onboard?

A. The European Union is recommending airlines draft etiquette guidelines to either control or limit the use of mobile devices during flights to avoid in-flight flare ups between closely confined passengers. For example, airlines could recommend passengers switch their phones to 'silent' or limit services to quieter text or e-mail or ban calls during night flights.

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