The federal government is changing regulations to permit the use of video games, tablets, computers and cameras at any time during a flight, including during takeoff and landing, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Monday.
"We're going to be allowing passengers to use portable electronic devices during takeoff, ascent, descent and landing provide that the airlines have met certain safety conditions," Raitt told a news conference at the Ottawa airport.
Travellers still won't be allowed to use cellphones or access WiFi, or use any device that hasn't had its transmitting functions disabled, since such activity can interfere with aircraft systems, she added.
But as long as a device is in "airplane mode" and unable to send or receive a signal, its use will be permitted "gate to gate" — a change Raitt said is meant to strike a better balance between safety and passenger comfort.
Under the regulation exemption, airlines will also have to demonstrate that their aircraft are not affected by the devices and that passengers can still be made aware of crew instructions during emergencies.
The exemption takes effect immediately, although it will be up to individual airlines to determine when they are ready to adopt the change, said Raitt.
Canadian airlines were informed in advance that the rule change was being contemplated, giving them time to prepare for Monday's announcement. Air Canada, for one, said it welcomes the decision.
"Our customers have been telling us they want the option to use their (personal electronic devices) at all times on board our aircraft, both for working and entertainment," the airline said in a statement.
"Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge and its Air Canada Express regional partners are finalizing measures to safely implement the new procedures."
A ban on using over-the-ears headphones, however, remains in effect on board Air Canada flights during the usual periods when passengers need to be able to hear announcements: takeoff, ascent, descent and landing.
WestJet said it had already completed comprehensive testing of the electronic systems aboard its next-generation Boeing 737 fleet to support the expanded use of personal electronic devices.
But more work is required to properly train flight crews, amend operating manuals and demonstrate that radio signals from devices don't pose a risk to aircraft systems and equipment, the airline said.
Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority lifted its ban on the use of portable electronic devices under safe flying conditions.
Shortly afterward, all major U.S. airlines began allowing the gate-to-gate use of devices and the European Aviation Safety Agency quickly followed suit.
Canada's move brings domestic carriers in line with other airlines around the world, Raitt added.
"It'll ensure that Canadian operators can remain globally competitive."
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