Mobile phone use is currently banned onboard aircraft
The use of mobiles on planes flying in European airspace has been given approval by UK regulator Ofcom.
It has issued plans that will allow airlines to offer mobile services on UK-registered aircraft.
The decision means that mobiles could be used once a plane has reached an altitude of 3,000m or more.
But airlines keen to offer the services must still satisfy other regulators about how the hardware will be used.
Ofcom's decision comes out of a consultation exercise that began in October 2007.
The decision to offer the services now falls to individual airlines. However, there are other regulatory hurdles to overcome before the technology is considered to be fully approved.
The European Aviation Safety Agency needs to approve any hardware that would be installed in aircraft to ensure that it did not interfere with other flight systems.
In addition, said a spokesman for the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), airlines would need to develop operating procedures to ensure cabin crew were trained in the proper use of the systems.
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Give cabin crew the power to tell users to keep their voice down!
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The spokesman said the CAA knew many airlines had expressed interest in offering such services but added: "None have formally approached us yet."
"It's down to the airlines to decide whether they want to fit the systems then they would have to get approval for that," he said.
The plan is to install small mobile phone base stations, called pico cells, in aircraft that will be switched on after take-off. The base station generates a bubble of coverage in and around the aircraft.
Calls made via the pico cell will be routed to terrestrial networks via satellite link. Across Europe radio spectrum has been set aside for the technology.
The services could stop working once aircraft leave European airspace.
Initially, only second generation networks will be offered but growing interest would mean that third generation, or 3G, services would follow later, said Ofcom.
The cost of making a mobile phone call from a plane will be higher than making one from the ground.
In the UK, regulator Ofcom said it would investigate and address any evidence of "excessive charges and abuses of competition" if prices were set unfairly by airlines and mobile networks.
Mobile use is currently prohibited on planes because there is evidence that they interfere with onboard communication and navigation systems.
Research published in 2003 by the CAA found mobile phone signals skewed navigation bearing displays by up to five degrees.
There are also fears that mobiles used onboard aircraft that are not fitted with pico cells could disrupt the working of terrestrial networks.