In-flight phone maker applauds FCC decision

It may be hard to hear over the din of criticism that has engulfed the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) decision to consider lifting its on cellphone calls during flights, but at least one person is supporting the proposal.

Most of the voices that have be heard on the possibility of lifting the ban on airplane phone conversations have been in staunch opposition to the proposal, but Panasonic Avionics Corporation Vice President of Global Communications Services David Bruner said the agency made the right call.

“The FCC’s vote today allows U.S. airlines and passengers to take another step closer to joining the rest of the world in having the capability to stay connected via text, email and voice through any long journey," Bruner said in a statement.

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Critics have said the ban on in-flight phone calls should remain in place to spare fellow airplane travelers from overhearing personal conservations while they are flying.

Bruner said the FCC's job was not to regulate passenger behavior, however.

"We have always viewed this process as a choice," he said. "We believe it is the job of federal regulators to make technical determinations about the safety of in-flight cellphone use, and once that determination is made, that the airlines and their passengers should determine whether and how to use this capability in the air."

Bruner added that foreign airlines that have already allowed calls have disproven the theory of the many vocal critics of the FCC's proposal.

"With foreign passengers already responsibly using inflight cellphone service, it was simply a matter of time before U.S. airlines would be given the technical ability to provide the same," he said.

"Fears of loud chatter disrupting passengers during flights have proven to be unfounded overseas and reports of problems due to voice cellphone use have been virtually non-existent," Brunner continued. "We applaud the FCC for standing up for the American consumer and allowing this process to move forward and giving the airlines and passengers the ability to decide how this service will be used.” 

Despite Bruner's reassurance, however, lawmakers and aviation regulators moved ahead with plans to maintain the ban on in-flight phone calls -- before the FCC could even lift it.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill in the Senate that would enshrine the ban into law, regardless of what the FCC's technical review concludes.

Additionally, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his agency may issue a ban of its own since it's job was different than the FCC.

A group of lawmakers wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of Thursday's vote to express support for the idea of allowing airline passengers to use their phones during flights, even as they said they shared reservations about going all the way with talking.

"Like many Americans, we have significant concerns about whether the use of cellular voice service during flights is a good idea," the lawmakers wrote. "In fact, we oppose the use of voice services during flights. However, as members of Congress who are concerned about making sure that our laws and regulations keep up with the pace of modern technology, we support this process and believe that appropriate actions can be taken to modernize an outdated technological rule and enhance passenger connectivity while in flight."

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.

Under the new electronic rules, cellphones can be used during flights, but they have to be on data mode.

The FCC vote on Thursday would allow passengers to use the mobile networks that are provided by their cellphone carriers.

The agency has responded to criticisms of its plans to consider reversing the in-flight call ban by saying that it is interested in the technological impact of reversing the policy, not policing passenger behavior.

The FCC has also said that decisions about allowing phone calls would ultimately be left up to airlines.

-Brendan Sasso contributed to this report