Curbs on in-flight services and laptops may be eased

JUST as the in-flight movie reaches its exciting finale, the stewardess asks for your headset because the plane is due to land soon. Either that, or the sound is turned off.

Those not watching movies may also be irked when they are asked to turn off their laptops and other personal electronic devices.

But respite could be at hand; the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) are considering relaxing such rules.

Currently, the use of in-flight entertainment is banned during taxiing, take-off and landing, SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides told The Straits Times.

This is for safety reasons, for example, to avoid cabin clutter, which may impede quick evacuation during an emergency.

As the industry watchdog, the CAAS does not regulate the use of in-flight entertainment, but airlines must ensure safety is not compromised, a spokesman said.

Mr Ionides said the current review is to study the feasibility of making in-flight entertainment available on the entire flight without an impact on safety.

An increasing number of airlines, like Emirates and Qantas, already allow this.

The use of portable electronic gadgets like laptops is regulated separately, and under the purview of the CAAS. Currently, travellers cannot use such devices during critical phases of a flight, the CAAS spokesman said. These include taxiing out for take-off, take-off, while the plane is ascending or approaching to land, and landing.

Unlike in-flight entertainment, which does not interfere with an aircraft's navigational and other systems, electronic devices like laptops transmit signals that may affect the systems, experts said.

But with advances in technology that curb interference to the plane's crucial systems, and given the widespread use of such devices, there is room for review, safety experts said.

The CAAS spokesman said revised regulations could be announced early next year.

Industry observers said travellers can expect the rules to be relaxed.

Similar studies are being carried out by other authorities, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States.

In a recent comment, acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta said: "We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft... We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."

Use of mobile phones, previously banned, is now allowed during flights to make or receive calls and text messages, provided the aircraft is fitted with the necessary technology to ensure that the phones do not interfere with navigation systems.

Such convenience for users has been used by some airlines as a marketing tool to make them stand out from rivals in the ultra-competitive aviation industry.

Travellers like freelance writer Sim Kok Chwee welcome initiatives to relax the rules on the use of electronic gadgets as well as in-flight entertainment, provided safety is not compromised.

Mr Sim, 52, who travels about 10 times a year, said: "It's very frustrating to miss the final exciting bits, so I always make sure I have ample time to watch a movie during the flight. Otherwise, I'd rather not watch it."

karam@sph.com.sg


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