FAA Reportedly Mulls Change on Device Policy

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is reportedly considering changes to its no-gadget policy during taxi, take-off or landing on flights in the U.S. Writing for The New York Times, Nick Bilton reported that a recent query to the FAA on the issue resulted in an answer that may signal a change in the agency’s stance.

Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow

Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow

Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the FAA, told Mr. Bilton that her agency was taking a “fresh look” at the issue. The reporter, who has a jones for the issue, had frequently asked about the subject, and this was the first time the FAA has indicated that a policy shift was even possible.

According to Ms. Brown, the FAA will test today’s e-readers, tablet, and other devices for use on planes. If approved, this would replace the current rules that allow individual airlines to request exemptions for devices, exemptions based on onerous testing that simply doesn’t get done.

The FAA last looked at the issue in 2006, when e-readers were just beginning and tablets were computers running some version of Windows. Today, Amazon sells Kindles by the million, while Apple sells iPads in the tens of millions, and that’s not counting the explosion of smartphones that the FAA is not planning on reconsidering just now.

“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,” Ms. Brown said.

The testing is likely to take some time, in part because the FAA is still trying to work out how to actually do the testing and who is going to pay for it.

The current rules, for instance, stipulate that an airline would have to test every iteration of a device (for instance, the iPad, the iPad 2, and the new iPad, or the Kindle, the Kindle Fire, the Kindle Touch, etc.) on separate flights with no passengers. Compounding the problem, each airline would have to do this individually. The money, time, and resources required make it a lot easier for airlines to just say no because the FAA said no.

In any event, any possible changes in the (rather absurd) rules preventing the use of these devices will take some time before you can continue reading your book or watching your video while your plane lands. On the other hand, a change is at least possible.

Comments

Lee Dronick

I gotta disagree. During landing and takeoff one should be ready for a survivable accident. Plunging from altitude is another story.

CJ

I would love to know why use of electronic devices during takeoff/landing was prohibited in the first place. For years, as a passenger, I shot video of takeoff/landing routinely and it was never a problem. Then it became prohibited and while it seemed to be blamed on potential electronic interference, there was always the suspicion that maybe airlines just don’t want anyone having a record of those events, should something happen.

Lee Dronick

CJ I think it is just to have passengers ready for an emergency. It is tough enough to exit during an emergency, worse if you are stumbling over laptops, tablets and getting entangled in headphone cords. If it was because of avionics interference then some terrorist would have used it. There are lawsuits up the gumpstump without video documentation.

Bryan Chaffin

Lee, the stated reason for the ban is that the devices may interfere with the plane’s equipment, something that’s been been proven false in third party tests.

Also, note that I am allowed to keep my headphones on my head and read a book or magazine. That neither activity is prohibited suggests preparedness for a crash isn’t an issue.

Intruder

The reason is stated very clearly in the second to last paragraph. The current rules require that every iteration of every device being considered for clearance must be tested separately and on flights with no passengers. That is very costly. While we all know that they don’t interfere, officially sanctioned testing has not occurred.

Lee Dronick

Your probably correct Bryan, about the readiness. I have been through emergency egress training several times so that colors my perspective. If at all possible I sit by an exit.

Yeah, modern consumer gadgets shouldn’t interfer with avionics. MythBusters did a show about that, as have others.

Lee Dronick

@ Intruder

You must be an EA-6 and just an A-6 smile

webjprgm

Why don’t they test based on radio interference class? (Not sure what the technical terms are.)  E.g. have a radio transmitter sitting on a a seat putting out a certain amount of EM waves that would be just over what a typical tablet puts out.  Then permit any device that emits less than the threshold.  Isn’t that what FCC radio interference testing is about anyway?

iJack

I think there is sufficient third-party, prima facie evidence to goose the FAA into doing this, but I don’t believe that they’ve been dragging their feet, or bureaucratically obstinate, or anything.

The FAA is very much “old school,” and very, very thorough in everything they do, especially testing new equipment.  If I were a manufacturer of avionics or even cabin gadgets, I would curse them. 
As a pilot, I am continually grateful for their slow thoughtful pace.

Albert Vetch

I see the difference in case of an accident. If the airlines are allowing a device, certainly after severe testing, and it appears that one was used in time of an accident, they will be accused for bad testing and will have to proof, that it did not cause the accident. If the FAA test, the airlines in case of accidents can just say that they followed the ruling of the FAA.
I just wonder how the FAA will draw the line between an iPad or an iPhone as the last one pretends to be a cellphone and therefore wouldn?t be allowed.
I don?t think the FAA can force me to switch the handy device in my pocket to a big one that requires a purse to carry around.

Pio

If the iPad interferes with the plane’s electronics how can the pilot use that FAA-approved iPad that replaces all his books, charts… Or does he only use it while cruising in altitude?

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