News.com reports that the FCC has dropped its inquiry into lifting an in-flight cell phone ban: The agency released an order that drops the consideration because of technical concerns. The cell industry association (CTIA) agreed with the FCC decision, because they maintain that in-flight cell phone use would interfere with terrestrial networks; tests of on-board picocells seem to have contradicted that, but I don't have access the data. The FAA's advisory body--the RTCA, which is an industry-led technical group--has yet to release its airworthiness recommendations for the entire panoply of electromagnetic radiation-producing devices, including cell phones. The RTCA does have the picocell data, by the way, because their members include airlines and plane makers.
Journal story not quite right on cells in flight: This Wall Street Journal story about in-flight calling and broadband by Scott McCartney, who I usually rely on as an expert on air travel, is full of errors, starting with "the FCC has already auctioned off radio spectrum for cellphone use..." The spectrum was for broadband network access, which might include voice, but, you know, see FCC story above. McCartney says that only 14 calls could be made at the same time; that's with Inmarsat's third-generation satellite, not with AirCell's equipment nor with Inmarsat 4G hookups. And so on. I checked with AirCell, and they said voice is nowhere on their near-term roadmap; cell data devices are of much greater interest, but that's still down the road.