Passengers will be allowed to use their electronic gadgets from the time they board an aircraft until they land, thanks to new Transport Canada rules.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced the loosening of rules during a news conference at the Ottawa airport on Monday and said she expected airline would implement the changes quickly.
The exemption comes after the United States changed its rules last October, when the Federal Aviation Administration determined that portable devices, from cameras to tablets to electronic games, were safe to use during all phases of flight.
Raitt said Canadian airlines can immediately apply for the policy change, provided all the paperwork was in place, noting the airlines were given a headâ€™s up that the rules were changing.
â€œI get to come to you today, knowing we have had these pre-conversations already with airlines, so that they can move hopefully to have manuals updated and whatever they need to do . . . to get this to the Canadian consumer right away,â€ she added.
â€œWe hope that they are there because obviously, there is going to be an interest in this.â€
U.S. airlines had to prove their planes could tolerate radio interference from the portable electronic devices. Carriers such as Delta and Jet Blue were approved within days to loosen the rules.
Canadian airlines are keen to let their passengers tap away on the devices, but passengers will still be required to switch the devices to non-transmitting mode or flight mode on the aircraft.
Under the U.S. rules, in rare cases of low visibility, about 1 per cent of all flights, crews would instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing.
The U.S. policy came after a formal review panel that included airlines, manufacturers, pilots, flight attendants as well as e-retailing giant Amazon urged the FAA to update its policy.
The panel concluded most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from portable electronic devices. It recommended that once an airline verifies its fleet can handle these signals, the airline can allow passengers to use these hand-held devices, at all altitudes.
Previously, in Canada, passengers were only allowed to use portable electronic devices during what is called noncritical phases of flight, such as the cruising portion of a flight and only during the taxi-in phase toward the airport gate.
That led to different rules, where a U.S. carrier could allow the gadgetâ€™s use in Canada, while a Canadian carrier could not.
WestJet Airlines has wanted to see the FAAâ€™s policy adopted in Canada, arguing it would be welcomed by travellers and airlines alike. While the airline could have applied for a special exemption, WestJet said it would have been costly and challenging, arguing instead for overall policy change.
The airlines are also moving to give passengers Wi-Fi access in the skies, with Air Canada announcing last month a deal with Gogo, a U.S. company, to equip its narrow-body fleet with air-to-ground Wi-Fi connections for use on its North American routes.
By yearâ€™s end, the airline hopes to have 29 aircraft equipped and 130 planes by 2015 â€” though cellphone calls will be prohibited.
WestJet is also introducing Internet connectivity on all its Boeing 737s, with a deal withPanasonic, to provide Wi-Fi access as well as the in-flight entertainment system. The first system is scheduled to be installed later this year.