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Europe airlines embrace mobile devices on board

Spanish airlines Vueling and Iberia became the latest in Europe to allow to the use of portable electronic devices during all stages of a flight on Monday.

Per Breiehagen | Iconica | Getty Images

Iberia and Vueling are the first airlines in Spain to permit the use of smartphones, e-readers, electronic games and tablets throughout taxi, take-off and landing -- as long as the devices are in airplane mode. This is a mobile phone setting that disables many functions – such as texting or making phone calls – but still allows the use of other applications, such as games or MP3 players.

Vueling and Iberia received approval from the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea Española (AESA), following a ruling from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last November which approved of the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing.

"Starting today the use of electronic devices during all phases of flight will be possible on-board of all Vueling aircraft… All electronic devices can be turned on during taxiing, take-off and landing, as long as the terminals are connected on airplane mode and not transmitting data," said Vueling in a news release on Monday.

The move by the two carriers followed that of British Airways (BA), also part of IAG. BA has already received approval from the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, and as yet is the only U.K. airline to allow the use of electronic devices.

A press officer from the U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority, told CNBC: "At the moment, only British Airways has permission, but others may of course follow in the future. It's up to each airline to decide if they would like to proceed with a case for allowing passengers to use devices at all stages."

Irish budget airline Ryanair, one of Vueling's biggest rivals, confirmed last month that it would allow electronic devices to be switched on for the duration of all its flights.

(Read more: These airlines allow electronic devices)

Meanwhile, German airline Lufthansa has allowed passengers on its Boeing 747-8 jets to use electronic devices since January this year, and said that from March onwards it would allow for this across all of its Airbus aircraft too.

However, European airlines appear slow on the uptake compared to North American carriers, a long line of whom signed up to allow fuller electronic access after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's approval in October. Virgin America, Southwest Airlines, GoJet, SkyWest, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines all now allow electronic devices, along with smaller airlines such as Air Wisconsin and Hawaiian Airlines.

Wayne Plucker, aerospace and defense director at Frost & Sullivan, told CNBC that European take-up was delayed by bureaucracy. "Europe actually started the approval process earlier than North America, but has been conducting internal consultation which has delayed the final ruling."

Plucker added that the EASA ruling was "an incomplete picture". "It allows the use of devices, but the actual implementation will depend on the airlines both in Europe and North America," he said.

(Read more: Where to find airport Wi-Fi for free)

The European Commission has approved legislation that allows people to use 3G and 4G mobile technology above 3,000 meters, although this is only applies for aircraft fitted with technology to allow on-board internet access, and it is up to individual airlines to decide whether or not to offer it.

Plucker said text and email would soon be available on aircraft, but that airlines were keen to get the rule-change right first time.

"In North America, most passengers do not want to sit next to someone talking incessantly throughout a five hour flight," he said.

"As a result, many North American airlines are moving toward texting and 3G/4G services without voice. That may be challenging to implement. (However) several European surveys are supportive of that use."

—By CNBC's Kiran Moodley. Follow him on Twitter @kirancmoodley

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