Hong Kong - Millions of flyers in China may soon see their wish come true: Authorities are considering lifting restrictions on the use of mobile phones on planes, paving the way for wider in-flight connectivity that is now available only in developed markets.
A legislation to amend regulations that limit the use of electronic devices on board is underway and the norms will be relaxed by the end of this year or early 2017, Zhu Tao, director of the air transportation division at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said in an interview.
The changes follow revised safety standards issued about three years ago by regulators in the US and Europe.
The amendment, if approved, will enable passengers to surf the internet, use applications such as WeChat, and shop online at cruising altitudes with smartphones, the most preferred device for web browsing in the world’s most populous nation.
For the 50 odd Chinese airlines fighting for a slice of the world’s No. 2 air-travel market, it provides e-commerce opportunities as they tap the purchasing power of the nation’s newly rich while they are airborne.
The global market for in-flight e-commerce is set to reach $1.7bn by 2020 from $1.4bn in 2015, according to Frost & Sullivan. China Eastern Airlines and Spring Airlines are already preparing for it.
“From a business perspective, we definitely hope that there’ll be a breakthrough in the policy review,” said Zhang Chi, a deputy director at China Eastern, the nation’s second largest by passengers.
“While I let passengers browse the internet for free, I can at the same time profit from advertisement and on-board shopping. There will be a big positive return.”
Under Chinese civil aviation regulations, airlines at present order mobile phones to be turned off for safety reasons.
However, many allow the use of other electronic devices, such as tablets, that do not interfere with flight radio signals.
Such rules are changing across the world, partly because of advancements in technology and users preference for the convenience of smartphones.
As of June, 656 million users in China, or 92.5% of all internet users, use mobile phones to browse the web, according to a report published by the China Internet Network Information Center in July.