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DOT/OST RIN: 2105-AE30 Publication ID: Fall 2015 
Title: Use of Mobile Wireless Devices for Voice Calls on Aircraft 

The Department of Transportation (DOT or Department) is seeking comment on whether it should adopt a rule to restrict voice communications on passengers' mobile wireless devices on scheduled flights within, to and from the United States. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that if adopted would, among other things, create a pathway for airlines to permit the use of cellphones or other mobile wireless devices to make or receive calls on board aircraft. DOT supports the FCC's proposal to revise its rules in light of the technology available and to expand access to mobile wireless data services on board aircraft; however, under the Department's aviation consumer protection authority and because of concerns raised, we are seeking comment on whether to ban voice calls on aircraft.

Agency: Department of Transportation(DOT)  Priority: Other Significant 
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Proposed Rule Stage 
Major: No  Unfunded Mandates: No 
CFR Citation: Not Yet Determined     (To search for a specific CFR, visit the Code of Federal Regulations.)
Legal Authority: 49 U.S.C. 41712, 49 U.S.C. 41702   
Legal Deadline:  None

Statement of Need:

This rulemaking proposes to regulate the practice of permitting airline passengers to use mobile wireless devices to make voice calls onboard aircraft. Currently, the FCC bans the use of certain cellular frequencies on aircraft; this rule effectively prohibits the use of cellular telephone frequencies to make voice calls while in flight. In 2013, however, the FCC issued an NPRM which proposed lifting the ban on cellular frequencies while in flight, so long as the aircraft is equipped with an Airborne Access System. Moreover, airlines are increasingly installing Wi-Fi technology onboard aircraft. These systems operate outside the scope of the FCC's ban and have the capacity to transmit voice calls. In light of these developments, the Department anticipates an environment in which voice calls on aircraft would be not only permitted, but increasingly frequent. In February 2014, the Department issued an ANPRM seeking comment on whether to regulate the use of voice calls onboard aircraft. Comments received by the public (along with pilots' organizations and flight attendants' organizations) overwhelmingly favored a ban.

Summary of the Legal Basis:

The primary legal basis for this rulemaking is 49 U.S.C. 41712, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices in air transportation or the sale of air transportation. The Department submits that permitting passengers to make voice calls within the confines of an aircraft may be "unfair" in that it subjects other passengers to significant unavoidable harm without countervailing benefits. The Department's consumer protection authority found in section 41712 also supports a proposed rule which would require sellers of air transportation to notify passengers when a given flight does permit the use of voice calls. Another legal basis for the proposed rule is 49 U.S.C. 41702, which provides that air carriers shall provide "safe and adequate" domestic air transportation. The Department relied on section 41702 when it determined that the discomfort to passengers from smoking on aircraft was significant enough to justify regulating smoking to ensure adequate service in domestic air transportation. The Department submits that voice calls on aircraft would create a similar type of passenger hardship.


The Department's NPRM, as currently drafted, would propose three (co-equal) alternative rules: (1) Prohibiting airlines from permitting passengers to use mobile devices to make voice calls on domestic flights and domestic segments of international flights; (2) prohibiting airlines from permitting passengers to use mobile devices to make voice calls on both domestic flights and international flights; and (3) not banning voice calls, but requiring sellers of air transportation to disclose in advance when a particular flight is one on which voice calls are permitted. The alternative to these three proposals is to take no action; this alternative would require no advance notice and would passengers to make voice calls to the extent that the FCC's rule, technological advances, and airlines' own policies would allow.

Anticipated Costs and Benefits:




Action Date FR Cite
ANPRM  02/24/2014  79 FR 10049   
ANPRM Comment Period End  03/26/2014 
NPRM  03/00/2016 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: No  Government Levels Affected: None 
Small Entities Affected: No  Federalism: No 
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes 
RIN Information URL:   Public Comment URL:  
RIN Data Printed in the FR: No 
Agency Contact:
Blane A. Workie
Assistant General Counsel
Department of Transportation
Office of the Secretary
Room 4116/C-70, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE,
Washington, DC 20590
Phone:202 366-9342
Fax:202 366-7153