Airbus: In 2006, keep your cell phone on

Passengers will be able to use their phones, PDAs and laptops--with no fuss from flight attendants, the plane maker says.

Plane maker Airbus reported progress Wednesday in plans to enable passengers to use mobile phones in flight, beginning in 2006.

Test equipment aboard an Airbus A320 plane demonstrated that mobile phones can be used without interfering with navigation systems, according to Airbus.

Cell phones onboard were used to send and receive calls and texts, the Toulouse, France-based company said in a statement.

"The tests are a major milestone in the offering by Airbus of personal mobile telephones aboard commercial aircraft from 2006," it said.

PDAs and other wireless devices were tested in a separate trial, which capped a two-year study led by German Aerospace Center DLR, it said.

While falling fares drive simpler service on short flights, airlines competing on intercontinental routes are turning to innovations such as Internet access, flat beds, and better music and video systems to distinguish their brands.

Airbus rival Boeing, for example, has developed Connexion by Boeing, an onboard broadband Internet service.

Germany's Lufthansa launched the Internet service under the name Lufthansa FlyNet in May aboard some planes and aims to have it available on its entire long-haul fleet by the first quarter of 2006.

Airbus' mobile-phone trial involved using a small onboard base station, or "picocell," and routing calls via the Globalstar satellite communications network to the ground and terrestrial telephone networks.

Airbus, along with Geneva, Switzerland-based SITA and Seattle-based Tenzing, announced plans to form a new company in July aimed at helping airlines deploy such technology.

The companies said the aim was to enable passengers to use cell phones, laptops and PDAs on planes--and to be billed through their own phone company or Internet service provider.

Story Copyright  © 2004 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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