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Domestic carriers allow in-flight mobile device use

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-20 09:50

A number of domestic airlines have announced that they will allow passengers to use in-flight portable electronic devices after the regulator loosened restrictions earlier this week. But, most internal flights are not yet equipped with Wi-Fi services and that is not set to change significantly in the near future.

Hainan Airlines and China Eastern Airlines were the first to announce that passengers could use mobile phones, tablets and laptops with airplane mode switched on during the whole flight.

Later, China Southern, Xiamen Air, Shandong Airlines, Spring Airlines, Lucky Air, Sichuan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines, announced this week that the use of electronic devices is permitted on their flights.

Air China has also said it is taking the necessary actions and will allow the use of electronic devices sometime in the near future.

Currently, a small number of flights in China are equipped with Wi-Fi services. Some passengers said the current Wi-Fi services are slow and ineffective, with it taking about five to 10 minutes to send a picture.

National Business Daily reported it costs airlines about 7 million yuan ($1.09 million) to modify a plane to enable it to provide in-air Wi-Fi services. Industry analysts said because of the limitations of costs, technologies and the number of satellites, they cannot provide a large number of Wi-Fi-enabled flights in the short term.

As of this week, China Eastern has 74 aircraft that are equipped with Wi-Fi, covering its entire international long-haul fleet and more than 160 key domestic routes, with most of them charging fees.

All of Hainan Airlines' Boeing B787-9 aircraft are equipped with Wi-Fi services. Xiamen Airlines has limited slots for Wi-Fi connection, with economy class passengers needing to apply for access beforehand.

"If airlines equipped Wi-Fi and online payment services, it would help them to sell value-added products, such as duty-free products and paid-for films," said Lin Zhijie, an aviation industry analyst and columnist at Carnoc, one of China's largest civil aviation web portals.

"Meanwhile, if more flights could install Wi-Fi, it would improve the overall competitiveness of the civil aviation sector, and close the gap between the travel experiences on planes and high-speed trains."

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