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F.A.A. panel recommends easing the rules on electronics on planes
Recently an F.A.A. advisory committee recommended that airline passengers be allowed to use smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials who are familiar with the committee’s deliberations.
The F.A.A. started its review of current policies more than a year ago and appointed the panel to look at the technical aspects of the ban and outline steps to ease restrictions. Policy changes have been long expected by passengers, increasingly frustrated by rules seen as outdated in a tech-driven world.
The recommendations state, passengers would be able to use most devices, although some would have to be switched to airplane mode. Activities still prohibited will be downloading data, surfing the Web and
talking on the phone. However, people could still read e-books, listen to music, watch movies, play games and do work.
Currently, passengers are required to turn off phones and other electronic devices while planes are under 10,000 feet in altitude to prevent interference with sensitive cockpit equipment. Takeoffs and landings are the most critical phases of flight. However, new planes are equipped to prevent electronic interference, and critics have long complained the safety concerns behind the regulations are groundless.
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, who has pressed the F.A.A. to relax the ban, has said she was pleased with the panel’s recommendations and hoped that the F.A.A. would adopt them quickly.
“Anytime you have a rule that appears to be about safety but it is widely ignored, it undermines the importance of other rules about safety,” she said. “If people are being told to do things because it keeps the public safe, there needs to be solid scientific data that supports that, and clearly that was not the case with this prohibition.”
The airlines have also been eager to relax the rules, which are often seen as a distraction for flight attendants forced to police the cabin for people using electronic devices rather than focusing on their jobs. They are also expanding the use of wireless systems on board, offering live television and considering streaming movies to passengers’ own devices.
However, given the uncertainty, as well as the potential risk, the F.A.A. has been cautious in their approach. In recent years, there have been hundreds of reports by pilots of episodes in which they suspected that electronic devices might have interfered with instruments on the flight deck. But the evidence has been largely anecdotal, and neither regulators nor airlines have been able to formally substantiate them.
Cellphone use is not banned by the F.A.A. but rather by telecommunication regulators because their use in flight could interfere with transmissions between cell towers on the ground.