Europe opens door to wider use of gadgets on flights

Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's aviation safety authority has paved the way for passengers to use smartphones and tablet computers during entire flights, following a similar move by the United States.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said in a statement that it would publish guidance by the end of November for airlines seeking to widen the usage of gadgets during taxiing, take-off and landing, something that is not now permitted.

Users would have to keep their devices set to 'airplane' mode to stop emitting radio signals that could interfere with the aircraft.

Separately, the European Commission said on Thursday said it was authorizing the use of mobile spectrum for 3G and 4G communications, which allows users to surf the web and send email, when aircraft are flying above 3,000 meters.

After guidance is issued by EASA, the region's airlines such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa will be able to make the final decisions about whether and how to offer in-flight Internet, the commission said.

Current regulations in Europe allow the use of mobile phones for voice calls when flying above 3,000 meters but no Internet usage when at that altitude.

Passengers are required to turn off computers, music players and other devices during taxiing, take-off and landing. Some flights do, however, offer in-flight Wifi services.

The changes come two weeks after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ended its own long-standing ban on the practice of using electronics on flights during take-off and landing.[ID:nL1N0IL1A0]

The moves are likely to please airlines, which will be able to develop paid services for communications onboard as well as Internet savvy travelers.

"This is a major step in the process of expanding the freedom to use personal electronic devices onboard aircraft without compromise in safety," said Patrick Ky, the director of EASA.

(The story was refiled to fix details on how devices can be used in first, fifth and seventh paragraphs and clarify that there were separate rulings by aviation safety body and European Commission)

(Reporting by Leila Abboud; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Tom Pfeiffer)

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