FAA Easing Restrictions on Inflight iPhone, iPad Use

The skies may soon be a friendlier place for your iPhone and iPad if the Federal Aviation Administration follows through on a recommendation to lift a ban on using electronic devices in airplanes during takeoff and landing. The recommendation is under consideration by the agency following a report from a 28-person advisory panel that said forcing passengers to shut off devices such as smartphones, tablets and ebook readers below 10,000 feet altitude has little impact on flight safety.

You may soon be able to use your iPhone from takeoff to landingYou may soon be able to use your iPhone from takeoff to landing

The panel's recommendation came in part because most commercial airplanes are shielded to protect electronic components that could be impacted by electromagnetic fields, and because so many passengers forget -- or intentionally -- don't shut off their phones and tablets and no planes have flown off course or shifted to alternate dimensions as a result.

The current rules requiring all passengers to shut off their electronic devices were formed in 1966 when there were concerns that electromagnetic signals could interfere with radios and navigation instrumentation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Current testing shows those concerns are generally unfounded, especially since modern aircraft typically include shielding to protect sensitive components.

With pilots carrying iPads in the cockpit instead of paper-based manuals and flight charts, the FAA has essentially already confirmed portable electronics don't pose an in-flight hazard. With that roundabout endorsement already in place, the next logical step is to ease restrictions on passengers.

The proposed changes don't, however, mean passengers can start making in-flight calls on their cell phones. The panel's report didn't specifically mention phones because that was outside of the FAA's review request.

Easing electronics restrictions will come with some confusion, too. Based on the type of shielding an aircraft has, electronic devices allowed below 10,000 feet may be limited to just ebook readers, any device, or even no devices. Add to that the fact that some ebook readers are really Android-based tablets and many people use their iPad or iPad mini as an ebook reader. Unless the FAA issues a very narrow definition of what it considers an ebook reader there will likely be confrontations between passengers and flight crews over whether or not specific devices can stay turned on.

The FAA is expected to announce its decision in September after the advisory panel submits the final version of its report. If approved, the changes are expected to go into effect some time in 2015. Until then, expect to hear the usual "turn off and stow your electronic devices" litany when you fly.