updated 07:26 am EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Advisory panel granted 2-month extension on device report for FAA
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is close to loosening the restrictions on electronics on planes, after a long period of deliberation, according to a report. Recommendations from a 28-member high-level advisory panel and industry officials in a draft report are apparently leading the FAA to lift the ban on the use of personal electronics at low altitudes.
The report from the Wall Street Journal mentions that the change in stance could have been forced due to the large amount of airline passengers that persist in using devices in planes during take-off and landing. All airlines currently follow guidance from the FAA that prohibits the use of all devices on the aircraft until it exceeds past 10,000 feet. Though the flouting of the ban may be intentional by some passengers, such as to film through windows using a smartphone at take-off, one item of industry research cited in the report suggests that one third of passengers have accidentally left devices running during a flight.
While the report will allow for the use of devices at take-off, landing, taxiing, and during the climb to 10,000 feet, it will still not permit phone calls to be placed during these times. If the plans are adopted, it will also allow cabin staff to perform other duties, rather than spending time checking that passengers have turned off their devices.
There would still be a pre-flight announcement for passengers about their electronics, with the contents depending on the level of built-in protections of interference that the aircraft has. The draft report suggests that the most-protected planes would have the announcement "This aircraft tolerates emissions from electrical devices for all states of flight."
Despite being close to changing the rules on in-flight devices, it will be some time until they are enacted. An FAA spokesperson stated that the agency "recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft, that is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions." The spokesperson also mentions "the FAA has granted the two-month extension" to the report's completion "at the group's request," placing the final report as being due by September.
Even though it is likely that the FAA will adopt the changes proposed in the report, it is possible that it may be forced to do so anyway if they did not agree. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, is trying to introduce legislation to ensure the relaxed rules come into force, noting that since pilots and attendants use iPads as part of their work, passengers should not still be facing such restrictions.