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London Calling: Europe Logs 10,000th In-Flight Cell Phone Call

Several U.S. airlines have deployed in-flight Wi-Fi access service in recent months, but voice calls are still forbidden.

While U.S. regulatory agencies and commercial airline passengers have expressed their loathing for in-flight cell phone conversations, airlines in Europe have logged their 10,000th flight with voice capability without a single complaint being filed.

Europe's OnAir reported Monday that the service, inaugurated in December 2007, is rapidly deploying, hitting its 10,000th flight with a TAP flight from Lisbon to Munich. The OnAir service is expected to exceed 100,000 flights before year's end.

"The feedback from in-flight experience shows that phone use inside aircraft does not create any discomfort to passengers," said OnAir CEO Benoit Debains in a statement. "We have not heard of one single complaint."

Several U.S. airlines have deployed in-flight Wi-Fi access service in recent months, but voice calls are still forbidden. While the European model has rolled out with relatively few glitches, efforts by U.S. aviation interests to introduce Internet and voice services on flights across the continental United States have stumbled until recently as Wi-Fi services have been released.

Boeing's Connexion six-year in-flight program was abandoned after the company spent a reported $1 billion on the program. Passengers generally liked the Boeing service, but it was only in use beyond U.S. borders and the service was shut off when planes approached U.S. waters.

OnAir's Mobile service was established with the idea of providing voice calling from the beginning. OnAir, which is owned by SITA, the European air transport communications organization, depends on 14 Inmarsat satellites for its service. It delivers both voice and data features. Passengers use the OnAir service just as they would their mobile and smartphones on the ground.

Since OnAir's service is banned in the continental United States, European airlines flying to U.S. shores shut off the service as aircraft approach the country. Mobile OnAir has been deployed on flights to 34 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to an OnAir release.

OnAir said its service also is used on some Airbus corporate jets.


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