A special United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) panel has been discussing loosening in-flight electronics restrictions. After recommending to the FAA that it let airline passengers use their smartphones, e-readers, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices uninterrupted during flight, the panel is now endorsing Wi-Fi use. The Wall Street Journal reports that the 28-member committee has determined that Wi-Fi use is essentially safe regardless of what applications are running on devices and the altitude of the plane.
"The vast majority" of aircraft "are going to be just fine," says Amazon's vice president of global public policy, Paul Misener, who is part of the committee. While there are recommendations to allow gate-to-gate use of devices, the panel doesn't specifically recommend Wi-Fi use during takeoff and landing. Instead, it recommends simpler testing of existing Wi-Fi solutions used by airlines. Cellular connections are still off limits, even if a device can be used during takeoff and landing. The Federal Communications Commission has long prohibited airborne cellular service, and even onboard systems on flights from London to New York must be turned off at least 250 miles outside US airspace.
Even gate-to-gate use of electronics would be a small victory for passengers
The committee's report is now expected to be released by the FAA shortly, but the fate of the recommendations are unknown. While the FAA created the committee and has several members on it, approvals could delay the recommendations which would otherwise be in place by 2014. If the FAA follows the recommendations, flight attendants may be tasked with detecting whether passengers are connected to onboard Wi-Fi systems or cell towers during takeoff and landing. It's essentially an impossible task, but even if passengers ignored the rules Misener doesn't believe it's a significant safety hazard. It's now up to the FAA to decide, but even if Wi-Fi isn't permitted the use of electronics during takeoff and landing could be a small victory for passengers across the US.