August 7, 2006 6:51 AM PDT
Airlines to replace 'no smoking' with 'no mobile'
Air France will be the first airline to try out the satellite-based technology early next year, followed by the U.K.'s BMI and Portugal's TAP.
The technology, developed by Airbus and SITA joint venture OnAir, will allow passengers to make in-flight mobile calls and send text messages on short-haul flights across Europe at a cost of around $2.50 per minute.
The overhead "no mobile" signs will be retrofitted to old aircraft and fitted to new Airbus planes coming off the production line, which will be used by airlines to provide the in-flight mobile phone service.
The illuminated "no smoking" signs have now become outdated since almost universal bans on lighting up on scheduled passenger planes were introduced in the late 1990s.
The "no mobile" sign will show a mobile phone crossed out and will be illuminated during takeoff until the plane has reached a certain altitude in order to ensure there is no interference with mobile networks on the ground.
"After takeoff, an announcement will be made that passengers are allowed to use their mobile phones. At this point the 'no mobile' sign will be turned off," a spokesman for OnAir told Silicon.com.
The new signs are currently only applicable to Airbus aircraft. But OnAir said it hopes to have them on Boeing planes as well if the in-flight mobile service is extended to its aircraft in the future.
Boeing last month warned the financial markets it may take a $315 million hit on the sale or closure of its own troubled in-flight broadband technology operation, Connexion, which has struggled to take off.
Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.
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