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Ring in the sky, not yet in India

Airlines like Emirates and the popular European low-cost carrier Ryanair plan to allow mobiles on board, reports Ranju Sarkar.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2006 03:01 IST

Your last refuge from incessantly ringing mobile phones — weird ringtones and all — may soon disappear. Airlines like Emirates and the popular European low-cost carrier Ryanair plan to allow mobiles on board, provided civil aviation authorities oblige. And many other airlines could follow.

Emirates has spent £14 million (over Rs 118 crore) to develop technology that will enable passengers to use their mobiles in the air without the phones interfering with the aircraft’s avionics, according to reports. Interference from cell phones or laptops can lead to faulty readings for pilots. Civil aviation laws require mobiles to be switched off as soon as the engines are started.

However, irrespective of what Emirates or Ryanair get, Indian fliers will have to wait at least a few more years before airlines adopt the technology, if at all.

To begin with, Indian civil aviation laws — under which mobiles must be switched off on board and during refuelling — have to change. Second, the new technology — which may involve installing a shielding device that keep mobile signals out of the cockpit, and a transmitter that beams signals down to the ground — is yet to be deployed and tested.

Even if the technology is ready and available, the cost could be a big deterrent. “The new technology is likely to be expensive, and airlines may not want to retrofit such equipment. If it is available for free, we may go for it. But if it costs $2 million per plane, airlines could be reluctant,” Indigo CEO Bruce Ashby said. And finally, even if Indian airlines could afford it, there could be a debate over whether it should be allowed. For every person who loves to talk, there may be others who may feel disturbed and may want to catch up on sleep or with reading.

This in fact, will be a consideration everywhere. There are many places in Europe, like train cars in France, which are ‘quiet zones’ or ‘silent cars’, and require people to switch off their phones. “If you allow it, it will be a nuisance. The phones will keep ringing non-stop,” Air Deccan CEO G.R. Gopinath said. It may be a while before mobiles extend their empire to the skies.

Email: ranju.sarkar@hindustantimes.com