WeChat com­ing soon on flights


Mil­lions of fliers in China may soon see their wish come true: Au­thor­i­ties are con­sid­er­ing lift­ing re­stric­tions on the use of mo­bile phones on planes, paving the way for wider in-flight con­nec­tiv­ity that is now avail­able only in de­vel­oped mar­kets.

Leg­is­la­tion to amend reg­u­la­tions that limit the use of elec­tronic de­vices on board is un­der­way and the norms are ex­pected to be re­laxed by the end of this year or early 2017, said Zhu Tao, di­rec­tor of the air trans­porta­tion di­vi­sion at the Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China. The changes fol­low re­vised safety stan­dards is­sued about three years ago by reg­u­la­tors in the United States and Europe.

The amend­ment, if ap­proved, will en­able pas­sen­gers to surf the in­ter­net, use ap­pli­ca­tions such as WeChat, and shop on­line at cruis­ing al­ti­tudes with smart­phones, the most pre­ferred de­vice for web brows­ing in the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion.

For the 50-odd Chi­nese air­lines fight­ing for a slice of the world’s No 2 air travel mar­ket, it pro­vides e-com­merce op­por­tu­ni­ties as they tap the pur­chas­ing power of the na­tion’s newly rich while they are air­borne. The global mar­ket for in-flight e-com­merce is set to reach $1.7 bil­lion by 2020 from $1.4 bil­lion in 2015, ac­cord­ing to Frost & Sullivan.

China East­ern Air­lines Corp and Spring Air­lines Co are al­ready pre­par­ing for it.

“From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, we def­i­nitely hope that there’ll be a break­through in the pol­icy re­view,” said Zhang Chi, a deputy di­rec­tor atChina East­ern, the na­tion’s sec­ond­largest by pas­sen­gers. “While I let pas­sen­gers browse the in­ter­net for free, I can at the same time profit from ad­ver­tise­ment and on­board shop­ping. There will be a big pos­i­tive re­turn.”

Un­der Chi­nese civil avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions, air­lines at present or­der mo­bile phones to be turned off for safety rea­sons. How­ever, many al­low theuseof other elec­tronic de­vices, such as tablets, that do not in­ter­fere with flight ra­dio sig­nals.

Such rules are chang­ing across the world, partly be­cause of ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy and users’ pref­er­ence for the con­ve­nience of smart­phones. As of June, 656 mil­lion users in China, or 92.5 per­cent of all in­ter­net users, use mo­bile phones to browse the web, ac­cord­ing to a report pub­lished by the China In­ter­net Net­work In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter in July.

Though many Chi­nese car­ri­ers pro­vide in-flight Wi-Fi ser­vice for a lim­ited num­ber of fliers on some of their planes, it isn’t widely avail­able yet. A report by Route­happy, a com­pany that tracks air­line ameni­ties, shows that 78 per­cent of air­lines in theUS pro­vide some sort of con­nec­tiv­ity. That com­pares with 23 per­cent in­China, ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal avi­a­tion statis­tic com­pany Var­iF­light.

num­ber of Chi­nese in­ter­net users that use mo­bile phones to browse the web as of June.


A pas­sen­ger uses the Wi-Fi ser­vice on a China East­ern air­liner.

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