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Airplane Mode While Flying Abolished in Europe

Mobile phones on airplanes
EU Commission abolishes flight mode for mobile devices on airplanes. Credit: @kasto80 / Istock

Dying to make a phone call while flying? Well, you’ll be able to do so as of June 30, 2023. The European Commission intends to abolish airplane mode. From that moment on, passengers traveling within the European Union can text, call, receive messages, and use their data services.

On November 24th, the commission reported on its website that, “Passengers aboard flights in the EU will be able to use their mobile phones to the maximum of their capacity and features.”

Bye bye airplane mode

Portable electronic devices (PED) are smart phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and digital cameras. Initially, passengers could only use them in flight if they were non-transmitting but not during departure and arrival.

In 2013, those laws was revised. The Commission in Brussels led by Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen,  decided that PEDS must remain in flight mode at all times. The only exception was if the airline stewards advised the passengers otherwise.

The reasons were manifold. One was fear of the emissions levels of PEDs causing problems with avionics. Another referred to the need for improved security and reduction of interference. Then, there was talk of electromagnetic interference while in the air.

In the U.S., for example, a report by NASA on the Aviation Safety Reporting System from March 2022 on the connection between PEDs and issues with avionics revealed the wide variety and thus extremely irregular nature of arguments expressed in over fifty of the most recent studies.

5G saves the day

The European Commission seems set on a course to improve the lives of its EU members by changing regulation concerning mobile devices on the ground as well as in the air. First, they created a mandate requiring universal chargers for mobile phones, saving customers the hassle of having to pay for a new one every time they changed their iPhone.

The new legislation has been part of their ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ since 2008. Initially, according to the EU web page, their plan:

…has reserved certain frequencies for mobile communications on planes, allowing airlines to provide messaging, phone calls, and data services for flying in the EU. This update on…mobile communication on-board aircraft paves the way for the wide-spread deployment of 5G services.

The Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, stated that:

5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies. The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity.

Airlines will have the opportunity to offer the 5G service to passengers by using ‘special network equipment’ called pico-cell,” the Commission explained. The new network employing that technology will then allow for texts, ‘route calls,’ texts, and data in flight. The connection will be made via satellite directly from a ground-based network to the plane.

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