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Air France to begin study of inflight cell phone use

Six-month study will allow passengers to send messages and make calls.

Now arriving, phones on a plane Philippe Noret/AirTeamimages

Sorry I missed this one, but in the rush to close out before Christmas, I overlooked that Air France finally is ready to start its six-month study of inflight cell phone service via satellite. As I told you last April, Air France is partnering with a company called OnAir to run the trial on one of its airplanes. The trial will gauge passenger reaction to inflight use, which Air France will then use to determine if the program should be extended to more of its fleet.

The chosen aircraft, an Airbus A318, is a short-range plane used only on intra-European flights, so you won't be seeing the service on any intercontinental journeys. And in any case, the FCC's continued ban on cell phones would nix any mile-high talking in U.S. airspace. Air France took possession of the jet in late spring of last year, but the airline needed several months to get the program off the ground (so to speak).

During the first three months of the study, passengers will be allowed only to send text messages and e-mails. But during the second three months (originally the study was scheduled to last a year), passengers will be allowed to make voice calls. According to Wi-Fi Net News, calls can only be made above 10,000 feet and depending on passenger feedback, cabin crew can disable the service--available through a cable that runs the length of the plane--at any time. As you may expect, the satellite calls will be $2.50 per minute. Also, passengers will not know they're flying on the test aircraft until after they board.