Airline passengers will soon be able to use their electronic devices from takeoff to landing, according to the federal government.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said air passengers will be able to use their portable electronic devices — including cameras, tablets, gaming consoles and computers — during takeoff, ascent, descent and landing of a flight, as long as the devices are in non-transmitting, or flight, mode. 

Previously, passengers couldn't use their devices during takeoff and landing.

Cellphones and smartphones, which are transmitting devices, can only be used in normal mode during the taxi-in phase, when plane heads in toward the gate. If on flight mode, the phones can also be used throughout all flight phases.

Raitt called the changes good news for Canadian air travellers at a news conference at the Ottawa airport Monday.

Flight Plan WiFi

The federal government is loosening the rules around use of electronic devices on flights, effectively allowing airline passengers to use non-transmitting devices, such as computers and tablets, from takeoff to landing. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

"If you think about it, here you are trying to finish a memo, or you're trying to finish reading a document or you have your child next to you who's playing on their Nintendo DS or on a tablet. Now, you have productivity time and you have the freedom to choose," Raitt said.

"It's good news for air passengers and it's good news for the federal aviation industry."

Raitt also said the government's changes will have another effect.

"It'll ensure that Canadian operators can remain globally competitive," she said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration moved to allow use of portable electronic devices on U.S. flights last October, as did the European Union in December.

Safety first

Raitt added that the government has given Canadian airlines "some advance notice" so they'll be able to determine if they can implement the changes "as soon as they can."

Sending and receiving messages or information on a cellphone, smartphone, or iPad, does have the potential to interfere with aircrafts' navigation and communication systems, she said.

Airlines, which will be left to determine whether they'll allow the use of devices on their flights, must demonstrate to the government that their planes won't be affected by their usage. Airlines must apply for an exemption to current federal regulations in order to let their passengers use electronic devices throughout a flight's entirety.

As well, airlines will have to ensure that passengers are aware of and are able to follow crew instructions during passenger safety briefings and emergencies.

"Industry and the government have been discussing this matter ever since the FAA decision last fall," WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer said.

Now that the government has announced its decision, Palmer said WestJet will apply for an exemption as soon as possible.

"Once we receive it, we’ll update our operating manuals and train our flight attendants. We hope to have everything in place by early summer," he wrote in an email to CBC News.

In response to a CBC News query, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick referred to the airline's press release, which said Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge and its Air Canada Express regional partners are finalizing measures to safely implement the new procedures.

"Our customers have been telling us they want the option to use their PEDs at all times on board our aircraft both for working and entertainment. Moreover, this change will bring our policies in line with those of other jurisdictions for use of PEDs on aircraft, eliminating uncertainty for customers. We appreciate Transport Canada's support of our efforts to implement these new rules safely and quickly," the release said.

Canadian airlines move to add Wi-Fi

Earlier this year, Air Canada and WestJet announced they would be adding Wi-Fi access for passengers aboard their planes.

Although the airlines started making moves to install equipment for ground-to-air internet service, they still have to wait for Transport Canada approval before plowing ahead. 

Air Canada plans to make wireless internet available on 130 of its narrow-bodied, North American aircraft by the end of 2015, while WestJet said it would start offering wireless aboard its planes by the end of this year. 

WestJet's Palmer said the government's decision to allow use of portable devices does not affect its decision to allow Wi-Fi access.

"It’s separate, and still moving forward. We will still have to demonstrate to [Transport Canada] that enabling Wi-Fi won’t have any negative impact," Palmer said.

Transport Canada is also looking at a proposal to reduce the number of onboard flight attendants. 

The government is hoping to introduce regulation that would allow airlines to have one flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats, a change from current regulations allowing one attendant for every 40 passengers.

Flight attendants have been pushing back against such a move, saying that the new ratio would put Canadians at risk. 

With files from Meegan Read