BEING forced to switch off your smartphone or tablet for take-off and landing will soon be history for passengers under plans announced by air safety authorities.
It would mean travellers in Europe being allowed to have uninterrupted use of their electronic gadgets, as long as they remain in non-transmitting or receiving “flight mode”.
The move, announced by the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa), is expected to be introduced within months.
The agency said it “recognises the wide proliferation of personal electronic devices and the wish of the travelling public to use them everywhere”.
However, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) yesterday dismissed reports that the change would happen by Christmas as “unlikely”.
Airlines interested in relaxing the restriction are understood to include easyJet, Scotland’s biggest airline, and British Airways, which operates the country’s busiest route to Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic, which competes with BA between Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Heathrow, is also understood to be keen, along with Monarch Airlines.
Passengers are currently banned from using electronic equipment, which also includes e-readers, MP3 players and iPods, while aircraft are taxi-ing, taking off and landing.
Airlines permit their use once planes reach cruising height so long as the devices remain in “safe mode”.
Some carriers outside Europe allow passengers to make calls on their mobiles, while others provide wi-fi on board, such as Norwegian on its Edinburgh-Oslo flights.
Easa said it would publish guidance within two weeks for European airlines to extend electronic device use to all phases of flights. However, bulkier equipment, such as laptops, would remain banned during take-off and landing.
Easa executive director Patrick Ky said: “This is a major step in the process of expanding the freedom to use personal electronic devices on-board aircraft without compromise in safety.”
A CAA spokesman said: “Electronic devices are now a major part of many people’s lives, and naturally passengers want to use them when they fly.
“We therefore welcome the decision by Easa to ease restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices.
“Guidance from Easa, expected by the end of November, will mean that once an airline has completed an assessment, passengers will normally be able to use their devices in ‘flight mode’ during all phases of flight.
“We will be working closely with UK airlines as they implement the new arrangements.”
Easa said it was also looking at ways of permitting passengers to make calls on their mobiles “in the long term”.
A spokeswoman said: “The aim of the agency is to ensure safe and harmonised use of personal electronic devices on board aircraft operated by European airlines.”
An easyJet spokeswoman said: “We are aware of Easa’s decision and will now work closely with the CAA to evaluate its options.” Monarch Airlines chief executive Iain Rawlinson said: “Pending the outcome of industry testing and CAA approval, Monarch expects to undertake its own tests and implement changes to policies.”
A British Airways spokesman said: “As a UK carrier, we are regulated by the CAA and we will continue to liaise with them.”
A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: “We will be carefully assessing the guidance before adapting any safety procedures.”
No explosions but restrictions are still in place
It was once feared that mobile phones could trigger explosions in filling stations and disrupt life-saving hospital equipment, but their use is still restricted in such places as a precaution and to avoid disturbing patients.
The United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association, which represents oil firms, said there had been no confirmed cases of mobiles igniting petrol vapour on forecourts, despite “widespread but unsubstantiated reports”.
However, it said their use was “actively discouraged” to prevent people being distracted while filling vehicles or crossing busy forecourts.
Medical watchdogs said some equipment could be affected by electromagnetic interference from mobiles “under certain circumstances”.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has recommended hospitals devise rules to minimise the risk rather than impose a blanket ban. The agency said mobiles should not be used in intensive therapy units, special care baby units or where patients are attached to complex devices “as any effect on such equipment could be extremely detrimental to patient care”.