September 24, 2012, 11:12 AM — The U.S. government isn't ready to let you make in-flight voice calls from your mobile phone, but that's not stopping Boeing from adding in-flight use for cell phones and other connectivity options to more of its planes.
The airliner manufacturer recently announced that by the end of 2013 stock offerings to its 747-8 and 777 airplanes will include connectivity systems developed by Panasonic and the Thales Group. The new systems enable features such as Wi-Fi, live television broadcasts, and Internet access through in-flight entertainment programs, in addition to on-board cellular access.
Boeing already offers similar connectivity options for its 737 models as well as supply the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplanes with cell and Wi-Fi access. Boeing says it expects to offer wireless media streaming on all new Boeing airplanes by 2014.
But while Boeing planes are ready for the future of in-flight gadgetry, the Federal Aviation Administration is still grounding the mobile device takeoff. Current FAA rules disallow the use of electronic gadgets below 10,000 feet, and in-flight cellular connectivity is banned entirely. During takeoff and landing, you can't so much as glance at a page on your new Paperwhite Kindle display, even if the device's wireless radio is turned off.
The FAA's rationale is that all those extra signals from personal electronics could screw up the plane's navigation systems and other instrumentation. But many experts and critics have attacked the policy arguing the FAA's concerns are misguided or flat out wrong. In fact, some airlines around the world already allow in-flight cell use. Virgin Atlantic has started experimenting with in-flight cellular connectivity, while Dubai-based Emirates airline has allowed in-flight cell calls for several years.
The outcry against the FAA's electronic clampdown has prompted the government agency to take another look at its policies. The FAA in late August said it would review its current policies on portable electronics, but has already ruled out allowing in-flight voice calls using personal phones. But who knows? By the time all of Boeing's jetliners are hyper-connected the FAA may finally let you send a few SMS messages above 10,000 feet.