EU To Allow 5G Connectivity On Flights

European Commission unveils plans for airlines to implement 5G connectivity onboard, for aeroplane passengers

Europe may potentially be signalling the end of “airplane mode” on the smartphones of airline passengers.

Last week, the European Commission in its latest digital strategy update, unveiled plans for airlines to implement 5G technologies onboard for passengers.

The plan also called for Wi-Fi connectivity for road transportation, for example in cars and buses, starting from 30 June 2023.

5G spectrum

The plan sees the European Commission set aside 5G spectrum to make this all happen, which the Commission said “opens up new opportunities for innovation.”

The Commission updated its “implementing decision” on spectrum for mobile communications on-board aircraft, which will allow airlines to provide the latest 5G technology on their planes, alongside previous mobile tech.

Passengers aboard flights in the EU will be able to use their mobile phones to the maximum of their capacity and features, just like with a ground-based 5G mobile network, said the Commission.

“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies,” said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal market. “The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity.”

The EC pointed out that since 2008, it’s implementing decision has reserved certain frequencies for mobile communications on planes, allowing airlines to provide messaging, phone calls and data services to passengers flying in the EU.

Now this update of the Commission implementing decision on mobile communications on-board aircraft paves the way for the wide-spread deployment of 5G services, it said.

So how will this work?

Well the EC said the 5G service will be provided within the cabin of an equipped aircraft using special network equipment – i.e. a so-called ‘pico-cell’.


This will connect users and route calls, texts, and data, typically via a satellite network, between the airplane and the ground-based mobile network, it said.

The Commission also amended an implementing decision on 5GHz frequency bands, which makes the bands available for Wi-Fi in road transport, for example in cars and buses.

According to the amendment of the implementing decision, the Member States shall make the 5GHz frequency bands available for use aboard road vehicles as early as possible and at the latest by 30 June 2023.

Aviation implications

The EC’s update of the implementing decision on mobile communications on-board aircraft, is potential significant, and will be closely watched by aviation experts.

It potentially spells the end of the need for an “airplane mode” on smartphones, and also has potential implications for providers of onboard Wi-Fi connectivity services.

The EC move is in marked contrast to the United States, where the arrival of certain 5G services was impacted by concern from the aviation industry.

It was only in late January this year, that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US agreed to allow more mobile masts and towers equipped with 5G networks to be switched on, after it agreed that Verizon Communications and AT&T could safely turn on more towers for the C-Band 5G deployment.

The FAA played a controversial role in the 5G crisis in the United States, after it publicly disagreed with its sister federal agency and the actual communications specialist, namely the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which insisted that 5G networks pose no risk to aircraft.

The FAA however sided with airlines, after an airline trade group repeatedly made over the top statements about a “catastrophic” impact on US aviation.

CTIA, an industry trade group representing wireless carriers, had previously pointed to experts as saying there was no valid scientific or engineering basis to justify a 5G delay, and there was overwhelming evidence that 5G operates safely in the C-Band without causing harmful interference to air traffic.