Cellphone use on some NZ-bound planes permitted

Norwegian firm to provide coverage for XT customers on some flights

Cellphones can now be used on a smattering of flights to and from New Zealand for the first time. Telecom XT post-paid customers can use their mobiles on all Emirates planes and some Air Malaysia flights, including flights between Auckland and Brisbane, Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur and between Christchurch and Sydney, under a deal with the airlines. Calls cost $13 a minute with a $1 a minute charge for incoming calls and an 80 cent charge for text messages. Accessing the internet costs $40 a megabyte. Passengers are billed by Telecom, rather than the airlines. Coverage is provided by Norwegian-owned company AeroMobile. It has installed mini cellsites on Emirates and Air Malaysia planes that connect to terrestrial networks via satellite. Emirates became the first airline to commit to supporting mobiles on its entire fleet in 2006, when it agreed to invest US$27 million in the required equipment. Having cellsites on the planes means phones can operate at a low power setting, which is designed to mitigate any safety concerns about interference with aircraft navigation systems. However, mobiles are still banned when planes are flying under 6000 metres. Telecom spokeswoman Lori Belmonte expected the service would appeal to business people. "It will allow our customers to quickly check emails or make a few quick calls – it's just another way for them to stay in touch while travelling." Air New Zealand has not announced any plans to allow mobiles to be used in planes or to provide any form of on-board internet access. The airline did a survey of passengers in 2006. Although Air New Zealand has never shared the results, it is believed they showed opposition to the use of cellphones. Spokeswoman Tracy Mills says it "continues to keep a close watch on developments".

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