updated 04:35 pm EDT, Mon March 19, 2012
FAA may relax rules on devices during approach
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a rare promise to reexamine its controversial device rules. Deputy Assistant Administrator Laura Brown explained to the New York Times that a "fresh look" was coming for rules that prevented device use during takeoff or landing. "New and evolving" technology and a lack of testing demanded it, she said.
Brown didn't say when, but it bucked a policy of the FAA flatly refusing any challenge to the rule.
She admitted that a change for testing methodology was desirable. The current method requires that every version of a given device has to be tested on a flight without passengers, which would make it virtually impossible to keep up with technology without disrupting flights or very high costs. It wasn't apparent how things would change, but Brown hoped to "bring together" both home and aviation electronics makers as well as industry groups and airplane crews.
The FAA's regulations on electronics on flights has remained unchanged for 15 years and has been criticized not just for its questionable scientific foundation but for apparent double standards. Engineers outside of the agency have noted that even a cabin full of devices would be unlikely to create problems, and that the rules around takeoff and landing are arbitrary as any interference would be a major problem.
Many have pointed out that the FAA has no issues clearing in-flight Wi-Fi based on 3G links to the ground or of having aircraft where every seat has a built-in display and mini computer that, if they were in passengers' hands, would be banned from use under altitudes of 10,000 feet. Air crews themselves are allowed to carry iPads that the FAA is aware might be used outside of the same terms.