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Passengers flying on Air New Zealand's new 777-300 aircraft, which begin arriving this November, may be able to send text messages and emails.

But the airline must first convince the Civil Aviation Authority that the move is safe before an exemption is granted to a rule which prohibits the use of portable electronic devices on flights.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Bill Sommer said the exemption would be similar to one already in place which allows the use of phones after takeoff and before landing when set to "flight mode".

The process is being worked through by the airline and the authority and is expected to be completed by the time the first aircraft arrives in November.

Voice call services will be disabled by the technology because of the disturbance phone calls could make to other passengers.

Passengers will also be asked to ensure their phones are placed on "silent" mode.

The new aircraft will initially operate on some Tasman and Los Angeles services but Air New Zealand said yesterday the airline was also evaluating its options for allowing text message and email services on other routes.

Air New Zealand group general manager international airline Ed Sims said the introduction of the service would enable passengers to use their iPhone, Blackberry and GSM mobile phones to safely send and receive emails and text messages during their flights.

"Feedback from our customers has shown they wish to be able to text and check emails, to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues during their long-haul flights."

The new service will also enable customers to use computers with mobile broadband connection to access email and the internet.

Mr Sims said using phones and computer equipment use was safe when the system was activated during the cruise stage of flight.

HOW IT WORKS
* A small cellphone base station, known as a Picocell, is fitted on the aircraft.
* Messages pass from there, through a satellite link and down to the ground network, similar to a satellite phone.
* Mobile phone use during flights is prohibited because as soon as a phone is turned on, it starts searching for the nearest receiver.
* The high power required in searching can interfere with the digital technology on the aircraft but the technology allows phones to find the in-flight transmitter on low power, without interfering with technology. It also disables calling services.