End nears for ‘flight mode’ as EU will force airlines to have 5G

British Airways Airbus A380 aircraft landing in Heathrow - NurPhoto
British Airways Airbus A380 aircraft landing in Heathrow - NurPhoto

“Flight mode” is set to become a thing of the past in Europe under plans to make airlines equip aircraft with 5G for all passengers.

Under the EU plan, passenger phones will be connected to masts on the ground during low-altitude flights, while airlines will be obliged to install a pico-cell on aircraft that would work as a booster to extend coverage when flying higher.

Making the announcement, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said “the sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity”.

Airlines have been allowed to provide wi-fi services to passengers since 2008 but passengers are normally required to pay extra for internet access and service is usually only available on longer-haul flights.

There are no known accidents that have been caused by mobile-phone use on flights but pilots have reported hearing distracting sounds in their audio devices, much like the beeping heard when a phone rings next to a speaker system.

While the EU rules around frequencies may be changing, the aviation industry is not set to see it as an order to act.

The International Air Transport Association told The Telegraph it welcomes the EU’s move, as the plan is to put the phone networks on 5GHz and over, while cockpit communications sit between 4.2-4.4GHz. It said it is assured of the safety of the plan.