Before taking off in China, airline passengers are treated to a lengthy country-specific legal warning stating that using mobile phones (among other offenses) could lead to detainment under the country’s laws. That might soon change however, as regulators seek to amend laws that prohibit the use of mobile phones on airlines, paving the way for in-flight Wi-Fi.
The rules banning mobile phones on fights will be relaxed by the end of the year or by early 2017, according to the director of the air transportation division at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Zhu Tao, who spoke to Bloomberg.
Global laws regarding personal electronic devices (PEDs) on planes were significantly relaxed beginning in 2013, when the U.S. FAA removed restrictions for airlines who could prove devices were safe during all flight phases. The EU soon followed and airlines all over the world, including Asia, have since begun providing in-flight Wi-Fi and internet-enabled shopping experiences.
Some 50 Chinese airlines will soon join the fold. While mobile phones and other devices equipped with radio signals are currently banned on flights, other electronic devices, including tablets, are already permitted during certain flight phases.
The country’s airlines have been prepping for the shift for over a year. In June last year three major airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Air China were approved for in-flight Wi-Fi services, launching limited use for approved devices. The legalization of mobile phones on these flights will pave the way for these airlines to offer a more comprehensive range of e-commerce services and other internet services.
China has the world’s most mobile internet population, with over 650 million people accessing internet using mobile devices as of the mid-2016. It’s also a market with a strong commerce sector. Market leaders Alibaba and JD.com have confounded analysts with continued growth, despite a flattening economy. Additionally, Chinese tourists are some world’s most cashed-up travelers, spending $215 billion USD abroad last year – all factors that combine to make in-flight internet services a potentially very profitable business for China’s airlines.
In June last year China Eastern Airlines, which is based out of Shanghai, began the process of installing Wi-Fi services in some 70 airplanes, a process that could continue up until 2017, the company said at the time.