Hong Kong airlines to allow use of smartphones, tablets during take-off and landing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 2:38pm

The familiar cabin announcement telling air travellers to turn off mobile gadgets during take-off and landing may soon be a thing of the past after Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department announced an easing of restrictions.

Cathay Pacific and Dragonair passengers will be able to use smartphones, e-readers and tablets throughout flights, under revised rules issued yesterday. Devices will still, however, have to be kept in flight-safe mode, so they do not transmit signals. The new rules apply only to handheld gadgets; large equipment, such as laptops, must be turned off for take-off and landing.

The city follows Australia, Japan, the European Union and United States in easing rules over the past year as fears electromagnetic signals could interfere with aircraft systems recede. The department said its review followed technological developments.

"Under the new regulations, passengers will be allowed to use [devices] during all phases of flight … provided that the aircraft is certified to be tolerant [to them] and that related operating procedures are in place," the department said.

Pilots will have the discretion to restrict the use of mobile devices in the event of problems such as turbulence, low visibility, systems interference or in accordance with local regulations elsewhere. Voice calls, text messages, Bluetooth and data roaming remain prohibited.

Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair were the first local airlines to be given permission for the use of devices throughout flights. The first Cathay flight under the new rules will be Flight 592 to Osaka on September 15.

"Our passengers will appreciate the opportunity to use their personal devices throughout the whole flight," said Toby Smith, Cathay Pacific's general manager for products.

Dr Eric Wong Tsun-tat of Polytechnic University's mechanical engineering department, said most newer aircraft had adequate defences against electromagnetic interference.

He said aviation authorities had calculated that it was an "acceptable risk" as not everyone would have their phones on at once. He added: "In-flight entertainment systems are already so advanced, why would anyone need to use their mobile phone?"