Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is making good on threats to force the Federal Aviation Administration's hand on in-flight electronics use. After asking the FAA in December to speed up its reevaluation of whether things like laptops or e-readers were safe to use during takeoff and landing, McCaskill has now announced that she is working on a bill to loosen the rules. "Given my concerns with the agency’s lack of commitment to adopt changes to the current PED [personal electronic device] rules, I am beginning to draft legislation," she says in a public letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta (PDF). "In the coming weeks, I will be calling in various stakeholders to receive input on the issue, and I will be working with my colleagues to build bipartisan support for action in Congress."
"Devices that are allowed above 10,000 feet should be allowed for use during all phases of flight."
We've reached out for more details on the proposed legislation, but McCaskill's letter suggests that it will focus on expanding the times during which it's safe to use devices. "I am not currently advocating for the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight," she writes. "Simply put, electronic devices that are currently allowed above 10,000 feet should be allowed for use during all phases of flight."
This tallies with what FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has suggested, and the FAA itself promised a year ago to take a "fresh look" at whether a rule change would be safe. Cellphone use during flights isn't up for discussion, but the FAA faces mounting pressure to allow other electronic devices, and McCaskill has essentially accused it of dragging its feet on implementing "commonsense changes." Given her references to the "coming weeks," the bill doesn't seem to be imminent, but neither does any action from the FAA.