Air France will let passengers use mobile telephones even while flying from September but only in Europe.
The airline will allow the use of GSM-based cellular phones on its Airbus fleet after getting approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). GSM is a digital wireless mobile telephony system widely used in the world.
The approval is the first of its kind. Officials of Airbus claim this could open similar services for flights in other countries.
"It's the first time anywhere in the world that a system has been authorised and confirmed for the safe operation of phones and BlackBerry-type devices (a wireless messaging solution for professionals always on the move) on aircraft," Graham Lake, chief commercial officer of OnAir, said at the Paris Air Show this week.
OnAir, a joint venture between Airbus and airline IT group Sita, received a go-ahead from the European Aviation Safety Agency Monday to begin fitting equipment on commercial jets, reported online edition of New Scientist.
Lake believes the average price will be about $2.50 (€1.9) per minute for calls and about $0.50 per SMS message.
The expansion timetable means European consumers will be the first to be able to use the technology with Air France, Ryanair, British low-cost BMI and Portugal's TAP.
Some companies in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are expected to begin installing the OnAir equipment in 2008 but the more complicated markets of Japan and the US will have to wait until 2009.
Lake acknowledges that the idea of mobile phones being used in the confined space of an airliner risks making talkative travellers a serious threat to peace.
"One wouldn't necessarily want to be seated next to someone who talked for the whole flight," he said. "But the cabin crew have control over the system. If an aircraft is flying overnight, they can decide to de-activate it for example."
The service can be shut down to prevent calls, or partially de-activate them, to allow only text messages or BlackBerry use.
One fear about using cell phones on planes was that during flight mobiles would emit their maximum limit of electromagnetic radiation as they attempted to communicate with distant towers on the ground.
OnAir says its system will prevent this by responding to cell phone signals onboard, curbing their need to boost their signal beyond the aircraft.