On purely technical grounds, there is nothing preventing making calls high up in the air on airplanes. But those who do not wish to hear their in-flight neighbors babbling away on a phone need not worry yet as the proposal still needs to pass by a number of votes.
This was the stance made by the FCC today after it voted on removing the ban on in-flight cellphone calls. The vote was a very close one, with 3 in favor of lifting the ban and 2 against it. Last month, FCC chair Tom Wheeler revealed that the commission is making a proposal to allow in-flight calls in an attempt to update the country’s outdated technology policies. The news caused quite a backlash that Wheeler had to later issue a statement clarifying his personal opinion, agreeing with those who do not want to sit through someone else’ audible conversation.
That said, in today’s statement, Wheeler clarified what the FCC’s duty is, and it is not really to be courteous. The FCC has the mandate to oversee technical communication matters. As such, it is its duty to determine whether there are still technical merits to a policy that was put in place a long time ago due to technological limitations of that period. It is also its duty to now tell everyone that technology has caught up to the issue and it is alright to permit certain uses of devices on board a plane. The FCC made a similar decision regarding the use of portable electronic devices in all stages of flight, which the FAA later approved.
The final decision, however, doesn’t lie with the FCC. Just because one can now make calls in-flight doesn’t mean one should. That last part will be up to the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve or deny. The DOT is expected to make a ruling soon, probably in the early parts of 2014.