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Mobile Communications on board Aircraft (MCA)

Statement published 26|03|08

Executive summary

a businessman using a mobile phone on a plane

1.1 There is increasing interest in the potential for passengers to use their mobile phones on aircraft – Mobile Communications on Aircraft or MCA. Ofcom’s role in relation to MCA services is to regulate the authorisation and use of radio spectrum and Electronic Communications Services (ECS). Ofcom published a consultation on MCA services in October 2007 , setting out proposals for authorising such services. This document summarises the comments made on the consultation and sets out Ofcom’s decisions.

1.2 Respondents to the consultation expressed a range of views, but on balance they gave broad support to our key proposals. Ofcom will therefore implement the following measures as soon as practicable:

  • Radio equipment for MCA systems on UK aircraft will be licensed (rather than licence-exempt) under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006;
  • Licences will be issued to UK aircraft operators on request, via a variation to their existing spectrum licences. No additional fee will be payable;
  • The basis of the technical and authorisation regime will be the Decision of the EU Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) and the Recommendation of the EU Communications Committee (COCOM), which make reference to the technical standards which were agreed in the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) of the CEPT and registered by the European Electronic Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). These standards ensure that any danger of harmful interference to terrestrial networks is minimised;
  • In line with the RSC Decision and COCOM Recommendation, mutual recognition will be given to EU registered aircraft which adhere to the common EU technical and authorisation standards;
  • The COCOM Recommendation defines MCA services as Electronic Communications Services (ECS). The standard obligations under the General Conditions of Entitlement (GCs) apply to them; and
  • MCA services should be allocated non-geographic international Mobile Network Codes issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for such services.

1.3 In addition to the points for consultation, many responses raised issues about the safety and general welfare of passengers if MCA were permitted.

1.4 Ofcom is well aware that the safe operation of aircraft and passenger safety is of paramount importance, and no MCA services could be introduced without the permission of the authorities responsible for safety. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK are responsible for aircraft safety and their requirements must be satisfied before MCA services can be introduced. Ofcom’s authorisation of spectrum use does not create any presumption that MCA services will or should be permitted by the aviation safety authorities.

1.5 Some of the responses to the consultation also raised concerns about passenger welfare and the potential for discomfort, anti-social behaviour and “air rage” on board. At an operational level, such considerations fall to the airlines and Ofcom notified the CAA of the non-confidential comments received during the consultation and passed comments on to them. Security concerns were also expressed and these fall within the remit of the Department for Transport (DfT) - Transport Security Branch. These issues are outside Ofcom’s remit and it will be for these regulatory bodies to consider the safety, welfare and security issues relevant to them.

1.6 The UK CAA, in liaison with the Department for Transport (DfT), requires that airlines have appropriate procedures to deal with disruptive passenger events and further requires that such events are notified through the formal reporting system. The CAA collates, analyses and grades these reports. This output not only shapes the operational procedures but informs Government on the appropriateness of the legislative penalties for miscreants.

1.7 Similar organisations in other countries, are also responsible for ensuring that airline onboard procedures are adequate to protect passengers. Such procedures must be certified by the relevant aviation body before MCA services can be permitted on aircraft.

1.8 Responses to the consultation also raised questions about the potential impact on consumers of the tariffs to be charged for MCA services. Ofcom is concerned about this issue as tariffs may well be high relative to other mobile communication services and there is a danger that consumers will receive unexpectedly high bills. Ofcom will be talking to all concerned parties to understand what steps can be taken to ensure consumers understand the costs of making calls from on board an aircraft. Ofcom will monitor this situation closely.

1.9 EU Member States have developed a common regime so that MCA operations provided on aircraft of different Member States are mutually recognised across Europe. This common approach could in the future be extended to a global regime for the mutual recognition of authorisations, drawing on the technical standards and principles developed in Europe.

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