September 5, 2012
By Jim Moore
Airline passengers itching to fire up their tablets and smartphones (in airplane mode) below 10,000 feet may be given that chance as soon as 2013. The FAA is taking a fresh look at this long-controversial topic, a move that could lead to regulatory changes.
The FAA announced Aug. 27 that a government-industry working group will examine several aspects of in-flight electronics use, including methods used to test devices and confirm they do not interfere with aircraft systems. Meeting for six months beginning this fall, the yet-to-be-named members will include representatives of the electronic device industry, pilots, air carriers, and industry groups.
Lifting the ban on in-flight cellphone use—which is also imposed by FCC regulations—will not be considered by the study group, which will work for six months before reporting its findings back to the FAA for consideration, and possible changes to regulations or guidance.
The study group will not extend its scrutiny to general aviation cockpits, where pilots are empowered to authorize the use of devices—including electronic flight bag tools—that they deem will not interfere with aircraft operation. AOPA staff confirmed this in various conversations with the FAA, which is focused on portable electronic devices use by passengers in the context of air carrier operations.
While excluding possible in-flight use of cellphones, the study group’s effort may help ease the tension between tech-equipped passengers and air crews tasked with enforcing current regulations.
“We’re looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft,” said Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow’s aircraft designs are protected from interference.”
Passenger advocates and various industry groups have long debated the merits of limiting in-flight use of electronic devices, including cell phones operated in an “airplane mode” that disables the transceiver used for cellular calls.
The study group’s mission is subject to a 60-day comment period, with input sought on safety and security aspects of expanded electronic device use, along with technical challenges, policy requirements, and procedures used to verify noninterference by devices.
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