DOT chief confirms likely ban on in-flight calls

The Transportation Department may ban on in-flight phone calls, according to agency chief Anthony Foxx.

Fox's comments come as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) holds a hearing that could lead to it lifting its own ban on calls during flights.

The FCC's long-standing prohibition is based on the idea that the calls can interfere with communications systems on the ground, something now under review. 

Foxx, responding to criticism from lawmakers who want the ban kept in place, said his agency would take a different tack.

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"As the FCC has said before, their sole role on this issue is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight," Foxx said in a statement.

"We believe USDOT’s role, as part of our Aviation Consumer Protection Authority, is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers. USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls. As part of that process, USDOT will give stakeholders and the public significant opportunity to comment," he said. 

The FCC began to consider lifting its ban after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Oct. 31 that it would begin allowing passengers to keep their portable electronic devices on during the entire length of flights.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have responded by introducing legislation to block in-flight calls.

Foxx said Thursday that he had heard opposition to the proposal to allow phone calls during flights from more than lawmakers.

"Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight – and I am concerned about this possibility as well," he said. 

Foxx's announcement was cheered on Thursday by the lawmaker who has sponsored the bill in the House to maintain the ban on in-flight calls, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

“I’m happy to hear that the DOT recognizes that the majority of Americans don’t support allowing cell phone calls during commercial flights, and that it plans to examine the issue closely,” Shuster said in a statement. 

Shuster said he would consider withdrawing his bill if the FAA acted to block in-flight calls on its own.

“Legislation I introduced on Monday, and which has been cosponsored by Congressman DeFazio and dozens of other Members, would prohibit in-flight calls," he said. "However, if DOT has determined they have the authority to keep a ban on in-flight calls in place, then I look forward to working with them to ensure something the public supports by a two-to-one margin."

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