UPDATE | Passengers on domestic Virgin Australia flights, along with domestic and international Qantas flights, can now use their iPads, Kindles and other personal electronic devices on a 'gate to gate' basis from today, Tuesday August 26.
In plain language, that means you'll be able to keep your kit switched on and used from the moment you step onto your flight through to when it's time to leave the plane.
The exceptions to the new rules: mobile phones and other devices with transmitting capability will need to remain in flight mode, and laptops (due to their weight being greater than 1kg) will still need to be stowed.
And of course, you'll have to pay attention during the safety briefing.
Travellers will also be able to tune into content on Virgin Australia’s own wi-fi entertainment system from gate to gate, or the Q Streaming wireless entertainment service on the Red Roo where available.
Qantas passengers travelling on the majority of trans-Tasman routes can already use personal electronic devices during all phases of flight following a change in ruling by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority, provided the devices are kept in flight mode.
Virgin Australia and Virgin Samoa flights to or from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji are excluded as approval has not yet been granted by the New Zealand CAA.
Additionally, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines flights – including between Sydney and Canberra – on ATR 72, Airbus A320, Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 aircraft won't yet see gate to gate gadgets, and neither will VA's flagship Boeing 777 flights to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, as Virgin Australia's exemption for its Boeing 737, Embraer 190 and Airbus A330 aircraft doesn't extend to its regional or long-haul arms.
Jetstar, QantasLink and Tigerair still require passengers to switch off their gizmos during take-off and landing, as these airlines remain in the final stages of preparing their submission to Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority for approval.
PREVIOUS | Passengers on domestic Qantas and Virgin Australia flights – as well as Jetstar, Rex and all other Australian airlines – are likely to be using their iPads, Kindles and other personal electronic devices on a 'gate to gate' basis by the end of this year.
With the Civil Aviation Safety Authority this week issuing guidelines to allow tablets, e-book readers and smartphones in flight mode to be used during a flight's taxi, take-off and landing stages, Virgin Australia will next month submit a proposal to CASA aimed to certify its fleet and operating procedures as gadget-friendly.
This would include the use of Virgin's wifi entertainment system which broadcasts movies, TV shows and music directly to a traveller's tablet, laptop or smartphone.
"We would welcome a review of the use of personal electronic devices during take-off and landing as we believe it will enhance the customer experience" Virgin Australia spokesman Nathan Scholz told Australian Business Traveller.
For its part, Qantas says it is "working with CASA to enable customers to keep their personal electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, e-book readers and music players powered on, but in flight mode, through all phases of flight, including on the ground."
“This is something Qantas has been actively pursuing for some time following similar moves in other countries" a spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
However, it's believed that CASA is working towards a blanket approval for all airlines provided they follow safety guidelines, rather than proceed on an airline-by-airline basis.
Industry sources have indicated to Australian Business Traveller that the process is likely to take several months but will be completed before year's end.
The move will see Australian airlines fall into line with the experience on US and European flights, which permit passengers to use devices up to the size of a tablet from the moment they reach their seat until leaving the aircraft.
However, laptops will still need to be stowed during take-off and landing, and travellers will still need to follow the instructions of the crew at all times.
This includes watching the inflight safety demonstration instead of Game of Thrones and securing your gadgets during turbulence if requested, rather than leaving them on the seat next to you.
Hopefully it won't be long before inflight Internet is added to the mix, if Telstra's Sydney-Melbourne 4G trials are anything to go by.
PREVIOUS | Qantas, Virgin Australia and the Australian air safety regulator CASA are keeping a watchful eye on moves in the US to allow passengers to use Kindles, iPods, smartphones, tablets and even laptops during take-off and landing.
The FAA is considering easing the current restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices at altitudes below 10,000 feet to prevent interference with sensitive cockpit equipment, especially during the critical periods of take-off and landing periods.
Devices such as smartphones would still need to be in flight mode – so there’s no scope for making calls, texting or checking your email.
But devices which emit only very low power, such as ebook readers and tablets, could remain on for the entire ‘gate to gate’ duration of a flight.
“We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years – testing an airplane packed full of Kindles (and) working with the FAA” said Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener in a statement. “This is a big win for customers, and frankly, it’s about time.”
The ball is in CASA's court...
Changing the rules for Australian travellers is the remit of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told Australian Business Traveller that the authority “will look closely at what the Federal Aviation Administration does with the recommendations”, although he added that “it may take some time for the FAA to decide what to do.”
Virgin Australia is already “in discussion with CASA to work out what’s possible to improve the experience for our customers” said airline spokesman Nathan Scholz.
“But CASA is the ultimate arbiter and they have the final decision on whether any proposal meets regulation, so we need to abide by their rules and find a way to make them comfortable which whatever we might propose.”
Qantas says its current guidelines prohibiting the use of portable electronic equipment during take-off and landing “were established as a result of our own rigorous testing and the direction of the FAA.”
“We will continue to monitor new learnings in this area as they come to hand.”
One proposal made, and rejected
Australian Business Traveller has learned that at least one Australian airline has previously submitted a proposal to CASA for a softening of its rules, so that ebook readers and similar low-power devices could be used during take-off and landing, but the proposal was rejected.
“It is important to understand that during take-off and landing pilots have a high workload and have minimal time to respond to any interference affecting aircraft systems” says CASA’s Gibson.
“If the airlines wish to change the current restrictions they would have to show there was no risk to safety.”
CASA's concerns aren't solely about possible electronic interference – in the wrong circumstance ebook readers, tablets and laptops could become dangerous flying wedges with the risk of injury to passengers and crew.
The process of 'changing the rules' in Australia is complicated by the fact that CASA has no rules regarding the use of personal electronic devices inflight, including “no specific regulations governing the use of mobile phones in aircraft”, according to Gibson.
“The issue is covered by rules which require aircraft operators to ensure safety is maintained at all times” Gibson told Australian Business Traveller.
“CASA has no current plans to develop specific rules relating to electronic devices.”
So for now, at least, it seems everybody is waiting for the FAA to take the lead.
What's your take: should low-power non-transmitting electronic devices be permitted during take-off and landing?
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.