FAA to update personal gadgets' use on planes

Published March 19 2012
Updated March 19 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal Aviation Administration rules state that you cannot use certain digital devices on an airplane during taxi, takeoff or landing.

But this rule might change soon.

Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the FAA, says that the agency has decided to take a "fresh look" at the use of personal electronics on planes.

That's going to be welcome news to the people in the United States who, according to Forrester Research, by the end of 2012 will have bought more than 40 million e-readers and 60 million iPads and other tablets.

Yes, you read that correctly. The FAA, which in the past has essentially said, "No, because I said so," is going to explore testing e-readers, tablets and certain other gadgets on planes. The last time this testing was done was 2006, long before iPads and most e-readers existed. (The bad, or good, news: The FAA doesn't yet want to include the 150 million smartphones in this revision.)

Brown said that the administration's current rules allow airlines to request use of electronic devices "once the airline demonstrated the devices would not interfere with aircraft avionics."

Airlines have not done this because it is an expensive and laborious affair.

So, likely bowing to public pressure, the FAA has decided to take this initiative into its own hands and is going to figure out a way to start testing new electronics on airplanes.

As Ms. Brown said: "With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft."

But don't start using your Kindle during takeoff just yet. There's plenty of work to be done before these rules are changed. While the FAA is no longer ignoring the devices, it could very well entwine them in the kind of bureaucratic red tape only Washington can invent.

The FAA said it is exploring how to bring together electronics "manufacturers, consumer electronic associations, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and passengers" to figure out how to allow greater use of these electronics on planes. That's a lot of people, organizations and bureaucracy to juggle. Plus the money to do this testing is going to have to come from somewhere.

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