The head of Continental Airlines said Monday that he is against the extended use of personal cellular telephones on aircraft in flight.
This issue came up only a week after an international carrier announced it would soon allow cell phones to be widely used aboard its aircraft during flight.
Larry Kellner, chairman and chief executive of Houston-based Continental, said he would back only the limited use of cell phones on planes. He likened widespread cell phone use to smoking, which was allowed on airplanes for years before being banned.
Currently in the United States, personal cell phones only can be used on aircraft before takeoff or after landing, and their use is regulated by two government agencies.
While cell phone use during flight is restricted, federal agencies have been considering whether to relax the rule.
The issue of cell phones on airplanes can be a contentious one, as many people say they don't want to be forced to listen to other people's phone conversations.
Kellner's remarks about limiting calls during flight were met with applause by many attending his speech at the International Trade Summit & Expo 2006. He made the comment in response to a question from the audience.
Kellner didn't see a need to ban brief calls in flight, but he favors Internet access as well as text-messaging on cell phones or BlackBerries, the best known brand among the personal digital assistants that are standard equipment for those who want to be constantly in touch with their e-mail.
Broadband in 2008?
"Sometime in 2008 we hope to see broadband" Internet access, Kellner said.
Officials of Continental want to ban calls using voice over IP or Internet protocol, or VoIP, "because we think it is distracting," Kellner added.
He was referring to an increasingly popular technology that uses the Internet to make calls.
Emirates Airlines last week announced it would introduce in-flight mobile phone use for passengers. It said it would install a system on board to allow such calls.
The Dubai-based airline said it would launch the service as early as January but also said it would have guidelines that "respect the privacy of all of its customers." It has yet to elaborate on how that will be done.
The Federal Communications Commission in late 2004 proposed to relax its ban on the use of cell phones on airborne aircraft. The matter is pending, an FCC spokesman said Monday.
The FCC and Federal Aviation Administration ban cell phones for airborne use because their signals could interfere with critical aircraft instruments. Radios and televisions are also prohibited.
But recent government tests have found the calls cause little apparent interference.
Laptops and other personal electronic devices such as hand-held computer games and CD players are restricted to use above 10,000 feet, according to the FAA.
That is also because of concerns they could interfere with aircraft instrumentation. Government regulations would have to be changed for a U.S. airline to do what Emirates Airlines is proposing.
The FCC has said that any steps it takes regarding the use of cell phones and other wireless devices would be subject to the rules and policies of the FAA and aircraft operators.
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