Ofcom has set out proposals to enable airlines to offer mobile communication services on UK-registered aircraft.
The proposals have been developed jointly with other EU countries and are intended to cover all European airspace.
It will be a matter for individual airlines to judge whether there is consumer demand for these services, and the installation of mobile systems on aircraft will only be allowed when approved by the relevant UK and European aviation authorities.
The proposed system includes an on-board base station which connects to the passengers' own mobile phone handsets. Both of these must be switched off during take-off and landing to eliminate interference with other terrestrial mobile networks.
Once the aircraft reaches a minimum height of 3,000 metres, the system may be switched on by the cabin crew. Mobile handsets will then be able to use the aircraft's network service to make and receive calls which will be routed via a satellite link to the network on the ground.
Calls will be billed through passengers' normal service providers.
2G (GSM) phones will be able to use the system for data, voice and text services. If the service is successful it could be extended to 3G and other standards in the future.
Ofcom proposes to allow the use of these systems by amending the aircraft operators' existing Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 licences.
Australia has already issued a licence to operate in-flight mobile services. The earliest that services could be available from UK registered airlines is 2008, subject to approval by the aviation authorities.
For a number of years some airlines have offered customers in-flight outbound telephone services via the airline's own network. Today's proposals will allow airlines to enable passengers to use their own mobile handsets.
The consultation, which closes on 30 November, can be found here.