DN - Defence Notes

Hang-Up hammered as industry unites in opposition

15th September 2008 - 12:09 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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INDUSTRY opposition to the US Hang-Up Bill, which seeks to ban voice communications in US airliners, is beginning to harden.

The measure is due to go to a second reading next month, though this could slip into 2009 as a result of a legislative logjam in the US Congress. At last week’s WAEA conference the bill was lambasted by a number of leading figures, including Emirates passenger communications VP Patrick Brannelly and Paul Domorski, chief executive of aero satcoms manufacturer EMS Technologies.

“It’s an embarrassment to the USA,” said Domorski. “It puts uncertainty into the market as to what’s going to happen in this area, and provides cover for people who don’t want to make these decisions. I think we have to speak out as to why this bill doesn’t make sense.”

Brannelly deployed humour to skewer the bill, ironically proposing a “Stop Eating Pizza on Planes Bill” to prevent annoyance from passengers consuming fast food in mid-flight. He went on to declare that there had not been a single problem caused by the use of cellphones in Emirates aircraft since the airline launched the AeroMobile service commercially six months ago.

Now onboard cellphone providers AeroMobile and OnAir have marshalled opposition to Hang-Up, announcing at WAEA the creation of the Inflight Passenger Communications Coalition. “Pro-voice stakeholders from the IFE/communications industry have formed the coalition to represent their position and ensure that accurate, up-to-date information is available to interested parties,” said AeroMobile’s David Coiley. “We will be keeping them informed via www.passengercommunications.com, which will be operational shortly.”

The anti-Hang-Up party has been heartened by the growing body of evidence to suggest that US fears about cellphone-induced mayhem in the cabin have little foundation. Emirates’ experience is matched by the results from an Air France trial of OnAir that ended earlier this year. The airline found that more than 80 per cent of the passengers who had sampled the service described it as good, very good or excellent, with many saying that they looked forward to seeing it implemented throughout the French fleet.

What’s more, US popular opposition seems to be less substantial than the bill’s proponents have made out. A survey recently publicised by the US Department of Transportation reveals that as far back as last November – months before Emirates introduced AeroMobile - four out of ten US residents felt that passengers should definitely or probably be allowed to use cellphones as long as there was no interference with aircraft communications systems. Some 45 per cent said they definitely or probably should not be used, with the remaining 15 per cent saying they weren’t sure.

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