UK: Use Of Mobile Phones On Board Aircraft

Last Updated: 5 October 2006
Article by Richard Gimblett and Hilary Pullum

The use of mobile telephones on aircraft is currently prohibited. However, new technology has made it possible for these prohibitions to be lifted. BLG has been advising OnAir, which has developed one such product for installation on commercial aircraft. This article examines the regulatory challenges posed by the use of mobile telephones on aircraft and the new technology.

The use of mobile telephones on board aircraft in flight is currently prohibited by aircraft operators and national civil aviation authorities. These prohibitions are the result of concerns about the risk of interference with aircraft avionic and ground mobile networks.

However, a number of products are now under development which will allow GSM mobile telephones to operate on board aircraft without causing harmful interference either to aircraft systems or (a separate requirement of telecommunications regulators) to terrestrial mobile networks. This technology works by requiring passengers’ mobiles to communicate at very low power levels with an onboard base station (signals to and from the ground then being transmitted via a satellite link), while at the same time a network control unit prevents any mobile (whether GSM or otherwise) from being able to detect and communicate with ground networks.

One such product, designed for installation on any commercial aircraft, has been developed by OnAir, a joint venture between SITA and Airbus. Barlow Lyde & Gilbert has been advising OnAir on a number of the regulatory issues which arise.

In particular, in order to be able to operate, the new systems will not only have to comply with relevant airworthiness certification requirements, but will also require an international legal consensus to be reached on the appropriate licensing regime – an issue which cuts across both telecommunications law and international aviation law. OnAir has been heavily involved in the work of national telecommunications regulators to develop (particularly at a European level) a "horizontal" regulatory approach that would enable such systems to be operated with a minimal administrative burden. This approach requires the system (including use of any necessary spectrum) to be authorised (whether by means of a licence or exemption) by the state of registration of the aircraft. The alternative would be to require authorisation of the system by every state into or over which the aircraft might fly. This would not only be administratively burdensome but, in the event that neighbouring countries were unable to authorise access to consistent spectrum bands, could lead to problems with service continuity or even "blackholes" in coverage.

Quite apart from the practical benefits, introduction of a system of "horizontal" regulation for onboard GSM systems has the advantage that it works with the grain of longstanding international aviation law. The starting point here is the Chicago Convention of 1944 ("Chicago"), which is the basis of international aviation law. Art. 1 of Chicago confirms that every state has sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. That remains the underlying legal principle. However, that is subject to all the succeeding provisions of the Convention in which the contracting states have agreed to fetter that absolute sovereignty in the interests of international aviation. Indeed, without such agreements, the civil aviation industry could not exist as it does today. Among such provisions is Article 30 (a) of Chicago, which provides as follows.

Aircraft Radio Equipment

(a) ‘ Aircraft of each contracting State may, in or over the territory of other contracting States, carry radio transmitting apparatus only if a licence to install and operate such apparatus has been issued by the appropriate authorities of the State in which the aircraft is registered. The use of radio transmitting apparatus in the territory of the contracting State whose territory is flown over shall be in accordance with the regulations prescribed by that State…" [emphasis added]

It is to be noted that Article 30 refers to any radio transmitting apparatus installed on an aircraft and does not differentiate between any different usages to which such radio equipment in question may be put. Thus it applies as much to onboard base stations of the type utilised by mobile telephony onboard service providers as it does to the traditional radio equipment utilised by the flight crew. Thus Article 30 points strongly in the direction of a system of horizontal regulation being applied to the former (just as it already is to the latter). This conclusion is bolstered by the terms of Article 33 of Chicago, which provides that "licences… issued by the contracting State in which the aircraft is registered shall be recognised as valid by the other contracting States…". The effect of this is to bar states overflown from imposing a system of secondary licensing on foreign registered aircraft operating into its territory.

The rights of a country overflown to protect its own territorial networks from interference are preserved by Article 30, which expressly states that the use of radio transmitting apparatus within the territory of that state must be in accordance with any regulations prescribed by that State. This enables States overflown to impose operating or technical regulations designed to ensure that radio apparatus carried by aircraft do not create harmful interference. In the UK we already have such regulation in the form of the Wireless Telegraphy (Visiting Ships and Aircraft) Regulations. It does not, however, authorise the imposition of any system of secondary licensing or frequency authorisation.

The approach adopted by the Chicago Convention is complemented in the field of international telecommunications law by parallel provisions within Article 18 of the International Telecommunications Union Radio Regulations. Article 18 of the Radio Regulations provides that radio transmitting stations are to be licensed by "the country to which the station in question is subject" and makes it clear that, in the case of a radio transmitting station on board an aircraft, this is the state of registry of the aircraft. International aviation and telecommunications laws are therefore wholly consistent with each other in this regard. The "horizontal" regulation framework proposed by OnAir and others for the regulation of onboard GSM systems is therefore one contemplated (and indeed mandated) by the Chicago Convention and ITU Radio Regulations.

Within Europe at least, this argument and approach appears to have gained widespread acceptance. The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) has published a draft decision which would establish such a framework. It is anticipated that within the next few months this decision will be formally adopted and should then be implemented at a national level across Europe. The days of being able to phone home or office from one’s aircraft seat are therefore becoming markedly closer.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.