A passenger checks his phone during a flight. Photo: Getty Images

China Eastern and Hainan Airlines are among a batch of Chinese carriers who plan to ditch the country’s no-phone ban and allow passengers to use their gadgets in the air – but not to make calls, Chinese papers have reported.

The two airlines announced the move on Wednesday after the Civil Aviation Administration of China said late last year that rules on the use of mobile phones during flights could be relaxed, given foreign airlines have long adopted a more lenient policy.

A picture from Hainan Airlines’ Weibo account shows passengers and attendants using their mobile devices during a flight.

The CAAC said it conducted tests itself and was satisfied that using phones or other gadgets would not interfere with pilots’ control of planes, so airlines could now decide if the ban should go or stay.

It now seems that the possibility of travelers being put at risk by passengers using their phones – if devices interfere with a pilot’s radio communications with ground control or capacity to control the plane – is extremely remote.

The aviation industry is not believed to have suffered an accident or emergency because a passenger used his or her phone while airborne.

Passengers on board China Eastern flights are now able to use their smartphones as well as laptops, iPads, e-books and other devices throughout the whole flight, Shanghai Daily reported. But it said the carrier stressed that smartphones must be switched to ‘flight mode’ to disable signal connections.

The relaxation of rules on phone use is likely to be welcomed by passengers even though they are still prohibited from making calls. Photo: Weibo

A number of airlines have rolled out trial in-flight wi-fi services that either allow access to the Internet via satellite communication or a pre-stored movie and video entertainment system.

At present, in-flight wi-fi services are available on a majority of airlines in the United States, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines said it would follow suit and lift the ban from “early this year.”

Meanwhile, remote-control toys and other devices with radio transmitting components remain out of bounds on aircraft. Flouting that rule could mean a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,610).

And smartphones and other portable electronic devices must be turned off when flying in bad weather conditions or if any interference is detected, according to the CAAC guidelines.

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