E-reader, iPad users who fly may get reprieve for takeoffs, landings

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 8:27 p.m.

By next week, the Federal Aviation Administration will find out whether an advisory committee believes it should ease rules that keep fliers from using their e-readers and tablets while a plane is taking off or touching down.

The panel, made up of industry and labor representatives, will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday and is expected by the end of the month to provide a report and recommendations to the FAA on whether rules restricting the use of portable electronics during the start and end of a flight should be loosened.

“The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft,'' the agency said in a statement on Monday. “That is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions. ... We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps.”

The long-standing rules were based on concerns that electronics could affect a jet's guidance and communications systems. But in the digital age, when passengers use portable gadgets to work and while away free time, the warning from flight attendants to turn off all electronics during takeoff and landing has become for some a frustrating ritual.

Several news outlets, including The New York Times, quoted some anonymous panel members saying that the committee will recommend relaxing most of the restrictions.

But if the FAA ultimately changes or relaxes some rules regarding electronics devices, those changes will not lead to the in-flight use of cellphones, which is banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

If the restrictions are eased, “It will result in less contentious relationships between the flight crew and passengers,'' says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. For “the flight attendants, it's one of the most annoying tasks, to remind people to shut ... devices off.'' And many passengers don't heed the flight attendants' requests.

“On any typical flight, there are dozens of people who put their devices in the overhead bin and didn't shut them down ... or ignore (the warning), and nothing's ever happened,'' Hobica said.

Capt. Sean Cassidy, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, told AFP that he supports the quest for solid science on consumer electronics use in flight.

“We've heard an awful lot of rumors about potential interference, but I think taking a very deliberate data-driven approach is a good thing,” Cassidy said.

He said he has never experienced any technical problems because of passenger devices.

“I have not. Not on the flight deck, and I have thousands and thousands of hours, but of course the other thing to take into account — as a matter of practice and standards — we weren't allowed to have electronic devices turned on and energized while we were flying around.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she was “not breaking out my iPad in celebration just yet. Today's reports are good news only if they're followed by a quick and logical timeline for implementation by the FAA, which I'm hopeful will be the case. This change would make life better for flight crews and passengers alike, and ultimately instill more respect for the important safety rules the traveling public must follow.”

McCaskill has said she is prepared to introduce legislation to change the rules if the FAA doesn't and fails to offer a compelling reason why.

Some industry watchers and experts say that allowing passengers to use their gadgets below 10,000 feet is not a simple decision.

“There's a lot of time where you could be productive between when the door closes and when you climb above 10,000 feet,'' said Brett Snyder, founder of air travel industry blog The Cranky Flier, who said he would welcome the chance to use his gadgets during takeoff and landing. But, “I think it's not a simple decision. ... There's a lot of technology that in theory could interfere with each other, and I don't know anybody who's said there's zero interference ever.''

Dan Macchiarella, professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Daytona Beach, Fla., campus, said it may take more than a panel's recommendation to get the FAA to make significant changes to the rules.

“They see their principal purpose as ensuring the safe use of aircraft in the country, and safety of the general public, so they're always cautious,'' he said. “Without legislation, it could take some time.''

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy