Phone Calls on Planes? The FCC Might OK Them — Someday

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The Federal Communications Commission is set to consider allowing airline passengers to make calls while in-flight, an official there confirmed to TIME Thursday. The agency will first discuss the proposal at an open meeting set for Dec. 12.

“Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement Thursday. “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

If the FCC gives the plan the green light — a process that will likely take months — individual airlines would be able to decide for themselves whether or not to allow passengers to make in-flight calls. Some would need to install new equipment on their aircraft in order to make it possible to make the calls.

However, there’s no guarantee the proposal will ever be cleared for takeoff. When the proposal is opened to public comment, those against the plan, which could include airlines, airline labor groups and some air passengers, will have their chance to sound off. While Wheeler has spoken in favor of modernizing aviation rules for the digital age, enough opposition to the proposal could convince his agency to shelve the idea.

“We look forward to working with the commission on this pro-consumer, pro-innovation initiative as we seek to strike the critical balance between ensuring airline travel safety and allowing airline passengers to use their devices to stay connected, informed and entertained while on-board,” Consumer Electronics Association Vice President of regulatory affairs and Vice President of Technology Policy Doug Johnson said in a statement Thursday.

“Of course, any liberalization of the use of wireless devices on airplanes should not negate general common courtesies. Engaging in phone conversations in flight may prove technically feasible but many may find it socially undesirable.”

The news comes just weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration changed its rules to allow passengers to use many mobile devices during all phases of flight provided they are left in airplane mode, which disables their internal cellular radios.