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FCC head says he personally opposes cellphone use on planes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after his proposal that in-flight phone calls be allowed on airliners, the head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Friday he personally opposed cellphone use on planes but the decision would be up to airlines.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler triggered a storm of criticism on Thursday when he said the agency was considering letting airplane passengers use cellphones for calls and text messaging during flights.

Experts warned that passengers would not welcome the prospect of listening to their neighbors chatter during flights. Airlines expressed concern about the proposal, and the union representing flight attendants said passengers rejected cellphone use and urged the FCC not to proceed.

"We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself," Wheeler said in a statement.

There is "no technical reason" to bar the use of mobile devices on planes and the FCC's role is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes, he said.

"Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while in flight," Wheeler said.

The proposal will be voted on at the FCC's December 12 meeting. It would let the airlines decide whether to allow passengers to make phone calls, send texts or otherwise use their own wireless data and call services, although still not during takeoff or landing.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would allow expanded use of electronic devices aboard planes, ending a long-standing ban. But the devices are still not allowed to connect to any ground networks and FCC rules have long banned the use of cellphones aboard.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; editing by Jackie Frank)

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