The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted rules that would make it easier for passengers to access the Internet while on board aircraft. The FCC’s rules will formalize an ad-hoc practice already in place since 2001 that allows providers of earth stations aboard aircraft to place antennas on the surface of aircraft that allow two-way communications between geo-stationary orbiting space stations and aircraft.
“The Report and Order formalizes ESAA as a licensed application in the FSS and establishes a regulatory framework for processing applications while ensuring other radio service operations are protected from harmful interference. Rather than have to license on-board systems on an ad hoc basis, airlines will be able test systems that meet FCC standards, establish that they do not interfere with aircraft systems, and get FAA approval.”
The order comes in the wake of a request from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to the Federal Aviation Administration asking the agency to liberalize its rules on the use of e-devices on aircraft during take off and landing. Critics of the FAA’s rule argue that the FAA’s rules have no substance since there is no proof of interference with operational equipment.
Will the FAA liberalize or eliminate its rules? I don’t know. Allowing use of e-devices, whether sitting on the tarmac, taking off, or flying horizontally, is a positive for commerce as travelers can put precious minutes to productive use. Also, as broadband providers apply to install earth stations on aircraft, there will be documented evidence not only of demand, but evidence that signals traveling between aircraft and satellites do not pose interference issues.