Avionics Update: Patent approval boosts AirCell's in-flight cellphone concept

 - August 4, 2008, 11:54 AM

AirCell, the Louisville, Colo. company that pioneered airborne cellular communication technology in the 1990s, has gained patent approval for a new type of communications system that will let passengers use their personal cellphones to place calls in flight over much of the U.S. The technology, designed for installation aboard the aircraft, would allow users of everyday cellphones to make calls in the air without disrupting cockpit equipment or cellular phone service on the ground. Rigorous testing of the concept will next be required to convince the Federal Communications Commission and the FAA to sign off on the idea. Both agencies currently prohibit the use of personal cellphones in the air. AirCell, however, has already secured waivers that allow the company to use its own special airborne equipment and ground antennas for in-flight cellular service. A prototype of the new technology will be fielded in the next six months, said AirCell. If all goes well, certification for airline use is anticipated by the middle of next year. AirCell plans to charge passengers by the minute, with fees appearing on users’ regular monthly cellphone billing statements. Verizon and SITA are reportedly working on similar concepts for services in the U.S. and Europe.