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DGCA issues draft rules to allow in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity over 3,000 metres

In-flight internet services should be available only over Wi-Fi and only when a flight reaches an altitude of 3000 metres, India’s civil aviation regulator DGCA has proposed in new draft rules for the use of mobile phones, laptops etc., during flight. Flights can offer internet services over Wi-Fi, and only flights approved by the DGCA will be allowed to offer this service as per the draft rules. The service should be made available only when portable electronic devices (PED), such as phones, laptops, and smartwatches, are used in airplane mode. The Centre had allowed flights to allow internet connectivity to passengers over Wi-Fi in March this year. Comments to the draft rules can be emailed to axjoseph.dgca@gov.in. We have reached out to the DGCA to know the deadline for submissions.

As per the draft, airline operators will have to carry out a risk assessment of the portable electronic devices capable of using in-flight Wi-Fi. The risk assessment should cover the hazards associated with PED in different aircraft zones, during various phases of flight, and during turbulence, among other things.

The Department of Telecommunications in 2018 had notified the rules for in-flight connectivity. According to those rules, called Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules, 2018, any Indian airline or foreign airline company having permission to enter the Indian airspace will first have to apply for an in-flight licence. The condition of allowing internet access over Wi-Fi was at a minimum height of 3000 metres was also prescribed in these rules. Telecom regulator TRAI had first recommended that in-flight connectivity be allowed over the Indian airspace.

DGCA’s recommendations for in-flight connectivity

The draft rules are applicable to all persons on board all Indian civil registered aircraft and to all Indian operators engaged in scheduled, non-scheduled and private operations. The draft rules allow pilots to control the status of the internet connectivity in-flight, and directs the cabin crew to keep a close watch over passengers to ensure that they aren’t violating any of its requirements. DGCA said:

  • The aircraft will need to have approval from the DGCA for for use of internet facilities through Wi-Fi on-board the aircraft.
  • The aircraft operator will have to ensure that the internet service provider is approved by the DoT.
  • Internet service will be available at a minimum height of 3000 meters above departure/arrival airfield elevation.
  • The Pilot, “for any reason” and “during any phase of flight”, can decide to deactivate the connectivity.
  • All electronic devices which transmit radio frequencies, such as phones and laptops, will have to be in airplane mode at all times.
  • All airline operators will have to address passengers on-board their aircraft about the restrictions on using mobile phones, and other electronic devices, “prior to commencement of the flight highlighting safety aspect including handling and stowage of PEDs by the passengers”.
  • Any violation of these requirements during the flight will be brought to the notice of the commander by the cabin crew and recorded in the flight report book for further action.
  • Electronic devices which are not “intentional transmitter” of radio signals such as portable voice records, electronic entertainment devices, and electric shavers will not be used by any person onboard the flight during taxi, take-off, climb out, descent, final approach and landing phases of flight. This won’t however, apply to to medical electronic devices such as pace makers [sic], and hearing aids.

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