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This question probably lies in the middle ground between Amateur Radio.SE and Aviation.SE.

I have seen a couple of videos where ham radio contacts are made with people on board a commercial aircraft while in flight. In one of the videos, contact is established trough the 2-meter band (VHF) with a passenger carrying his hand-held transceiver on board the flight, while in the other video, contact is made trough the 20-meter band (HF) with the captain of the airplane using the airplane's radio transceiver.

I am curious about what do regulations say in this regard.

Are ham radio contacts allowed from inside an airplane?

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    $\begingroup$ Airlines generally don't allow you to use radio transmitters inside an airplane, that's why "flight mode" exists $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Jun 9 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Since you want answers pointing to regulations, please Edit to indicate which country's regulations you're interested in. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 9 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ This question borders on amateur radio regs, too. Might be better asked on the Amateur Radio stack. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jun 11 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Do you want only commercial flights? For non-commercial, US Civil Air Patrol search and rescue missions often have and use ham radio frequencies to contact ground-based search teams. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jun 11 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ Amateur radio regulations in the US don't care if you're in an airplane, but it's polite to add "aeronautical mobile" as a suffix to the call sign on voice, or "/AM" on Morse code. $\endgroup$ – rclocher3 Jun 11 at 21:02
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Two-way radios are just like any other communications device. If the captain says all such devices must be in flight mode at any particular moment during the flight, you are not allowed to use it and could be arrested if you do. Also, if the captain determines that something you are doing with your communications device is interfering with aircraft communications or navigation, he may order the flight crew to confiscate your device until after landing, and you may be subject to criminal charges.

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The regulations say that for any flight on an IFR flight plan (which includes all commercial airline flights) the captain (PIC) is responsible for determining if any electronic device will interfere with the airplane's instruments or communication. If the PIC determines that it will not interfere, they can give permission to use the device in flight. Regular VFR (like small airplanes) have no such restrictions on determining interference, but the PIC can still decide if you can use it or not.

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In private aircraft, absolutely!

In my 40+ years as an amateur (W0BTU), I have heard and worked many hams in single and dual engine private aircraft. (aeronautical mobiles).

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the question is about commercial aircraft. Private aircraft are a different story. If you want to do that you install an HF radio. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Jun 12 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JuanJimenez Yes, but I have also worked them on VHF. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters Jun 13 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ That's what all pilots on aircraft with radios do as well. :) $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Jun 13 at 21:06
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There are several good reasons to prohibit the use of ham radio transmitters on commercial flights. They were largely detailed in a QST magazine article in August 1996 titled “An Aeronautical Antenna Farm” (I remembered that because I worked at the ARRL at the time). Basically the bottom line is that there is too much risk of interference to critical aircraft communication and navigation systems. The article references FAA Advisory Circular 91.21. While this is not a regulation per se it certainly seems like something all commercial carriers would follow.

The current revision (2017) of this circular is here: https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_91.21-1D.pdf

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