With few exceptions, such as the GoGo inflight wi-fi service being NoGo below 10,000 feet, the US roll out of permissions for passengers to use their smaller electronic devices from go to whoa on American domestic flights is going smoothly.

Evidence of this comes from American Airlines saying that almost all of its passenger will be able to do this from today.

The detailed statement here is a pointer to what is likely to happen, as well as not happen, when Australian carriers get their regulatory go aheads from CASA sometime next year, as everyone anticipates.

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Don’t expect to be able to keep your full sized lap top, indeed, not even your MacBook Air, open and in use for the duration of your intercity flight.

Apart from the fact that most economy seating in Australia has become too tight to actually open a full sized PC anyhow, American Airlines is telling passengers to close and stow them during takeoffs and landings. That’s safety commonsense, as well as part of its FAA approval, and no doubt this will apply equally to other US carriers.

And note the exclusions American refers to in some regional aircraft as well as the need to have devices in airline mode, that is, not connected by wi-fi to the internet or to a telco, at certain times.

This could be a significant stumbling block in Australia for those expecting to keep the smart phone hooked up live to Telstra or Optus or whomever else for the duration of the flight, indeed any of the flight.

The Australian telcos have long resisted the idea of direct links for SMS and emails from smart phones from jets passing over their cellular ground stations, where they exist. Even in the US there are areas where there isn’t much by way of ground stations, and in Australia, the gaps in coverage if you are on the ground, even within sight of Sydney and Melbourne are part of national disgrace when it comes to coverage and signal strength.

But where they exist, they do work, now. However using them is unauthorised. More than a few times I’ve arrived at an airport to discover that SMS messages have lobbed during the flight because I hadn’t properly shut down the ‘phone.

While it will be very useful to continue using a tablet type device all the way if necessary between capital cities, using them ‘live’ via a ground network looks like being forbidden until the airlines and the telcos can sort out an acceptable agreement on doing so via an onboard pico cell to relay data via a satellite to a network.

Qantas has looked at this in the past. The problem appears to be making money out of it. High charges will cause low usage, causing the service to fail as a commercial offering. Low charges might also cause it to fail if the volume of users doesn’t make the service viable.

International in-flight internet is another matter. Qantas claimed it didn’t have enough support, and after a trial offering, disabled the satellite internet links built into its A380s in the factory as standard equipment. However other airlines like Emirates seem very happy with it as a selling point.

In the interim, maybe longer than interim, domestic flyers in this country look like being able to work continually on their devices if they are suitably small and they look up and listen to the safety briefings,  but not work on them ‘connected’  except maybe between boarding and push-back.

We will see.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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