The Use of Approved Electronic Devices Is Now Permitted

Yesterday the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
 the end of its annoying, frequently flouted, and
seemingly arbitrary ban on the use of portable electronic devices
by airplane passengers at altitudes below 10,000 feet. It says
travelers should be free to play games, listen to music, watch
movies, and read ebooks throughout flights by the end of the year.
First each airline has to certify that the electromagnetic energy
generated by smartphones, MP3 players, and iPads does not interfere
with its planes’ “highly sensitive communications, navigation,
flight control and electronic equipment.” This is the same approach
that European regulators have taken for years. Notably, the FAA
does not anticipate that any airlines will be unable to show that
it’s safe for passengers to use electronic devices at any

Which makes you wonder: Was there any real basis for this
concern about interference to begin with? In a 2012 survey of
people who had flown in the previous year, 40 percent admitted that
they had left their electronic devices on throughout the flight,
while 7 percent said they had not even bothered to put their phones
in airplane mode. The FAA says “there are
reports of suspected interference to communication and navigations
systems in both the NASA Aviation Safety
Reporting System and the FAA’s Service Difficulty Reporting
system.” But even though many passengers have routinely disobeyed
the restrictions on electronic devices for many years, as far as I
can tell no one has ever cited an actual mishap related to such

The ban on using phones for voice communication remains in
place, but there does not seem to be a safety rationale for that
rule either. “Cell phones differ from most PEDs [portable
electronic devices] in that they are designed to send out signals
strong enough to be received at great distances,” the FAA says. But
while passengers will still officially be expected to turn off the
wireless functions of their devices (except for Bluetooth), FAA
Administrator Michael Huerta
 “there’s no safety problem if they’re not,”
although he warns that “you’re going to arrive at your destination
with a dead battery” because your phone will keep looking
unsuccessfully for a signal.

In fact, the rule requiring de-activation of wireless
capabilities was imposed by the Federal Communications Commission,
not the FAA. The FCC says
“the ban was put in place because of potential interference to
wireless networks on the ground.” The FCC has considered lifting
the ban but concluded in 2007 that “the technical information
provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was
insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices
on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks
on the ground.” The FAA
its PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee “did recommend that
the FAA consult with the [FCC] to review its current rules.”

from Hit & Run

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