(Almost) cleared for take-off: FAA panel says electronics are safe ‘gate to gate’

Florence Ion
4 October, 2013
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As flagged by last week’s Rumour Mill, soon you may not have to worry about carting a paperback book with you on every flight – in the US at least. An advisory committee has told the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) that travellers are safe to use handheld devices – presumably smartphones, e-readers, tablets and portable game devices – during the entirety of a flight, including those that can connect to the onboard Wi-Fi system available on some airliners.

The committee submitted more than two dozen recommendations to the FAA, which has the final say over any changes to the current rules. Among those recommendations is that electronic devices are safe to use before a plane reaches 10,000 feet. According to the Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, who serves on the committee and spoke to the Wall Street Journal, most current aircraft are already resilient to electronic interference, anyway, so there’s no reason that technology shouldn’t be cleared for ‘gate-to-gate use’.

Voice and data cellular connections, however, would still be banned, so you’d have to switch your smartphone or tablet into Airplane Mode before you buckle into your seat. That’s not in the FAA’s power to change – it’s actually the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that bans the use of mobile phones on planes, to avoid disruption to the networks on the ground. Full-size laptops would still have to be stowed away before take-off, since their relatively large size brings about some safety concerns.

It’s not clear when the FAA might issue its official ruling, or which airlines would abide by the new rules, especially with the concern that passengers might be too engrossed in their devices to pay attention to their flight attendants’ preflight in-case-of-emergency instructions. Policing whether passengers have really disabled their devices’ mobile connections could also be a challenge. (“Sir, can you put your tray table up and your iPhone in Airplane Mode, please? Sir? Sir?”) Naturally, the committee has suggested that airlines conduct their own safety tests before moving forward.

by Florence Ion, TechHive, with additions from Macworld Australia

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