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FAA ready to ease restrictions on in-flight gadgets, WSJ reports

FAA ready to ease restrictions on in-flight gadgets, WSJ reports


Panel of experts envision a world with "gate to gate" device use

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please turn off electronic devices in-flight (1020)
please turn off electronic devices in-flight (1020)

The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to loosen current restrictions on the use of personal electronics on planes, more than year after the agency announced plans to reconsider its gadget ban. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 28-member advisory panel will recommend that the FAA relax its restrictions during taxiing, takeoff, and landing, as part of an investigation launched last August. Under current regulations — which have remained unchanged since 1966 — airlines ban the use of all devices until planes reach an altitude of 10,000 feet.

The panel's draft has yet to be finalized, and details are still under debate, but the report makes clear that existing regulations "have become untenable." If the FAA agrees to implement the recommended changes, passengers would have greater freedom to use gadgets after a plane's cabin doors have closed. Some, including e-readers, would be allowed for use throughout the duration of a flight. A formal decision on the matter isn't expected until the panel submits a final version of its recommendations at the end of September.

"This aircraft tolerates emissions from electrical devices for all phases of flight."

The report doesn't address cellphone calls placed from within a plane. The Federal Communications Commission maintains a ban on all in-flight calls, for fear that they may interfere with wireless networks. The panel, however, is expected to include a discussion of cellphone use in its draft that the FAA "may or may not address."

Today's rules were implemented nearly 50 years ago, when policymakers feared that devices could tamper with navigation systems and onboard radios. In its draft, the panel notes that planes have become "much more tolerant" since then, while gadgets have evolved to "stay within a tighter range of frequencies."

The FAA's decision to reconsider its regulations were largely fueled by legislators, politicians, and consumers, who contend that the current ban is archaic and ineffective. Industry officials are also eager for the FAA to take action, given the high number of passengers who regularly ignore in-flight commands to power down their devices. According to the study, nearly one in three consumers surveyed said they'd accidentally flouted the rules at least once. Safety experts fear that without a looser policy, confidence in the FAA's regulatory authority may wane.

The draft also recommends that the FAA continue to urge airlines to implement stronger systems to protect their aircrafts from signal interference. Ultimately, the panel recommends a set of three different regulations, according to the level of a given plane's interference protection. For jets with limited safeguards, passengers would still be told to turn off their devices until they are safe for use. On others, travelers would be able to use them from gate to gate, except under rare occasions. And on the most secure planes, flight attendants would tell passengers, "This aircraft tolerates emissions from electrical devices for all phases of flight."