FAA Easing Restrictions on Inflight iPhone, iPad Use

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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.

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Stopping passengers from listening to music, reading ebooks and playing video games during takeoff and landing is a throwback to a time when far less was known about the potential in-flight interference from portable electronics, plus many airlines already offer inflight Internet via WiFi. It's about time the FAA made a change.


Lee Dronick

I think that the ban was mostly about being ready for an emergency and not being distracted by Facebook or whatever.


In actuality, I believe that the ban had more to do with the rules requiring all electronic items having to be tested for EMI (Electromagnetic interference). With the sheer number of phones, computers, etc. that would have had to be tested with every model of aircraft, it was cost prohibitive. Now they could just do a blanket ruling that there is no significant EMI from those categories of devices.

Lee Dronick

That too Intruder. It would be far easier to shield the avionics on thousands of airliners than to test the ever growing number of personal electronic devices. Either way, I pay attention to the flight attendant’s safety lecture, try to sit an exit, count the seats to the exits, and want as few idiots as possible between me and the nearest door.


I think keeping the 10,000 feet rule is silly, but whatever.
Now the question is will the Airlines catch up with the ruling, or will they gleefully keep their power over us?

Postscript ~ What devices were being used in 1966 that required banning?  None of the stuff we use today was around, least of all laptops, iPads, or cell phones.


Post-postscript: I recently flew Delta round-trip from DTW to SFO, and we were asked to turn off our gizmos only when we were on final at a couple of thousand feet; both flights.  Curious.

Lee Dronick

The airlines can probably set their own terms of service in regards to using personal electronic devices.

As to the gadgets intefering with control of the airplane. If that was the case then some terrorist would have done it. Sure you could do it with a big ray gun, but not with a modified smart phone.

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