After a long study, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that airlines can “safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”
That means tablets and PCs and Kindles and games machines can be used during take-off and landing. So can mobile phones, but not to make voice calls. It is now up to airlines to implement the new rules.
“Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
He said the FAA based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and the mobile technology industry.
The ban has long been an irritant to many airline passengers. It is a well known fact that many people do continue to use electronic devices at times they are prohibited, and that many people leave them on when they have been directed to turn them off.
The ban is ostensibly in place to prevent interference with planes’ electronic navigation systems, but never has there been a single documented instance of a device causing such a problem during any phase of a flight. Like the ban on using mobile phones at petrol stations, the ban seems to be a massive overreaction to a non-existent problem.
Now, finally, it seems common sense will prevail. Australia is likely to follow suit. Qantas says the FAA decision is 'interesting' and it will review the change in regulations.
Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority is quoted by ABC News as saying it is unlikely to stand in the way if airlines make the decision to lift the ban. CASA says there are no laws banning the use of electronic devices on planes in Australia, but that local airlines tend to adopt international policies. The FAA generally leads the way in such matters.
“Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions,” says the FAA’s statement. “Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual take-off and landing roll.
“Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled and cannot be used for voice communications. If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
“We believe the decision honours both our commitment to safety and consumer’s increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers, and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future.”
The ruling comes a month after the PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), comprising representatives from the aviation industry, safety authorities, IT vendors and government submitted its report to the FAA. The report, which took two years to prepare, concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from PEDs. They recommended that the FAA provide airlines with new procedures to assess if their airplanes can tolerate radio interference from PEDs.
Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices at all altitudes. In rare instances of low-visibility, the crew will instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing. The group also recommended that heavier devices should be safely stowed under seats or in overhead bins during take-off and landing.