The European Commission (EC) has given the green light for air passengers to make full use of their 3G and 4G devices when flying across Europe.

The European regulatory body stresses, however, that airlines have the last say on whether passengers can take advantage of the new rules.

The EC adds that 3G and 4G communications can’t be used during take-off and landing. Only when planes are above an altitude of 3,000 metres can passengers switch on their smartphones and tablets for internet browsing and so on (if the airline allows them to).

The new rules give airlines scope to put in place more sophisticated mobile communication on-board aircraft (MCA) systems. In-flight mobile services had previously been restricted to 2G (above 3,000 metres).

The EC stipulates that MCA systems can use 2.1GHz spectrum for 3G and 1.8GHz for 4G.

The EC announcement comes on the heels of a statement by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that it now sees no problem in extending the ‘flight mode’ use of personal electronic devices (PED) – such as tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players – to take-off and landing. Previous guidance had been that these devices must be switched off during this time.

In the long term, the European agency says it’s looking at new ways to certify the use of mobile phones on-board aircraft to make phone calls.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in October that the use of PEDs, in safety mode, could be extended to all phases of flight and was providing airlines with implementation on guidance.