Chinese air passengers could soon be allowed to use smartphones and tablets during flights

New regulations give individual airlines discretion to decide whether they will allow passengers to operate portable devices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 10:47pm

China’s aviation authority will relax its rules on using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets during flights, allowing individual airlines to decide on their own rules.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China announced a fifth revision to government aviation regulations on Monday, paving the way for airlines to make their own assessments on the use of portable electronic devices – which is currently prohibited on Chinese airlines.

The regulatory body has also developed an approval process for the airlines’ assessments.

“I believe that in the near future, you will see China’s airline companies allowing the use of portable electronic devices,” Zhu Tao, deputy director of the administration, said.

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The aviation rules were revised for a fourth time in April last year, and existing rules bar passengers from switching on or operating devices such as mobile phones, walkie-talkies and remote control toys during flights.

Some devices such as laptops cannot be used during take-off or landing, according to the existing regulations.

The impending change was heralded by Chinese passengers and observers alike.

“This is a welcome step to improve the competitiveness of Chinese airlines, both against international carriers and domestically against high-speed rail,” said Will Horton, a Hong Kong-based analyst at the Centre for Aviation, an aviation market intelligence firm.

One Beijing-based pilot wrote on Weibo that China’s airlines “should have kept up with the times long ago”.

Another user based in Beijing commented: “This is really just too great.”

Many airlines around the world, such as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, allow the use of smaller electronic devices, including smartphones and tablets.

In 2013, both the US and European Union’s aviation regulatory bodies changed their policies to relax regulations barring the use of electronic devices on flights.

Individual airlines in the US are free to use discretion in making their own policies, such as requiring smartphones to be switched to “airplane” mode. All the country’s major carriers allow some usage of electronic devices.

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In addition to relaxing the rules on the use of electronic devices, the changes are designed to improve safety with measures that include addressing airline crew members’ fatigue risks and qualifications as well as improving management training.

Other changes include an extended age limit for pilots, reduced flight time for cabin crew members and new fuel policies.

All carriers are required to implement the changes by the end of 2019.