by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Airline passengers may one day not have to turn off their portable electronic devices after the cabin doors of their airplanes are closed, depending on the outcome of a new Federal Aviation Administration study.
The FAA said Monday that it was launching a study group to review its policies regarding electronic devices, which have been criticized by airline passengers in recent years as they reluctantly unplug in an increasingly plugged-in society.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday that federal regulators who have issued the requirement for many years understand the increasingly important role electronic devices play in modern life.
“With so many different types of devices available, we recognize that this is an issue of consumer interest,” LaHood said in a statement. “Safety is our highest priority, and we must set appropriate standards as we help the industry consider when passengers can use the latest technologies safely during a flight.”
Cellphone users should not completely rejoice, however. The FAA said its study would not include consideration of allowing “voice communications” during flights.
Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, whose confirmation to a full-term is being held up in the Senate, said the agency was trying to find a balance between safety and new technologies.
“We’re looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft,” Huerta said, also in a written statement. “We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow’s aircraft designs are protected from interference.”
Airline passengers are currently allowed to use electronic devices that do not emit radio waves, such as laptops and tablets that are not connected to the Internet, during flights after taking off and before final approaches.
Many airlines allow passengers to purchase Internet usage on board airplanes.
Despite the exclusion of voice calls from the FAA’s study, the trade group for the cell phone industry said Monday afternoon that it was “about time” the agency reconsidered its policies regarding electronic devices on airplanes.
“It strikes me as silly that I can read a book at take-off, but if the book has been downloaded to an e-reader or tablet, then I have to wait until we’ve reached 10,000 feet or some arbitrary cut-off determined by the government or the airlines,” CTIA-The Wireless Association Vice President for Government Affairs Jot Carpenter in a blog post on the association’s website.
“Reading is reading and it shouldn’t make a difference whether I bought a book or newspaper at Hudson News or downloaded the same content while waiting to board my flight,” Carpenter continued. “And since most hardback books are heavier than an e-reader, please don’t tell me that this is a ‘safety issue.’
Carpenter said the FAA’s current electronic devices ban is “an antiquated rule that no one could explain, especially since there are several airlines that offer tablets for their pilots.
“In the Air Force, our fighter pilots may soon be wearing tablets to provide them with real-time information,” Carpenter said.