CAAS eases rules on travellers' use of electronic devices in aircraft

The first thing many travellers do after the plane lands is to switch on their mobile phones.

Previously, they were supposed to wait until the aircraft reached the gate. But now, phones, laptops and other electronic devices can be used the moment the plane exits the runway.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) recently relaxed the rules which apply to all local carriers, including Singapore Airlines (SIA), Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia.

This followed a review, which considered requests from travellers for wider use of personal devices, the industry's best practices, regulations of other civil aviation authorities and feedback from local carriers, a CAAS spokesman told The Straits Times.

But the use of cellphones and laptops is still not allowed when the aircraft is taxiing for take-off, she said.

"This may result in interference to the aircraft systems at this critical stage of the flight," the spokesman said.

On SIA flights, post-landing announcements have been changed to inform travellers of the new guidelines, airline spokesman Nicholas Ionides said.

While electronic devices like laptops transmit signals that may affect a plane's crucial systems, advances in technology can curb this, said airline communication experts.

For example, the use of mobile phones, previously banned, is now allowed during flights for calls and text messages, provided the aircraft is fitted with the necessary technology to ensure that the cellphones do not interfere with navigation systems.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to ease the rules on the use of personal electronic devices during take-off and landing in the coming months.

In a recent comment, FAA chief Michael Huerta said: "We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft... We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."

Unlike such gadgets, the use of in-flight entertainment is not typically regulated by civil aviation authorities.

Airlines have different rules.

On SIA flights, for example, watching movies is banned during taxiing, take-off and landing.

This is for safety reasons, for example, to avoid cabin clutter, which may impede quick evacuation during an emergency.

SIA will continue to review this, said Mr Ionides.

Frequent traveller Laura Wong, a 54-year-old housewife, said: "Technology has advanced, so it makes sense to review the guidelines. But never at the expense of safety, no matter how small the risk."

karam@sph.com.sg