We’ve probably all tutted when told by an air steward to switch off our gadgets before takeoff and landing, but the rules concerning the use of electronics on an aircraft are clear and well-established — almost everything gets turned off after the cabin door has closed until the plane reaches 10,000 feet.
However, the F.A.A. has told a reporter from the New York Times that it’s about to take a “fresh look” at this long-standing rule, with a view to test and hopefully approve some of the latest electronic devices currently prohibited from use.
This would include e-readers, tablets and music players, but not mobile phones.
At the moment, for an airline to approve one particular product — let’s say an Amazon Kindle — for use at all times during a flight, it has to test each and every model on each different type of aircraft in its fleet. These test flights can’t carry any passengers either, so a plane must be taken out of service, making it an incredibly expensive exercise to please only a certain percentage of its passengers.
The few Kindle models make this at least logistically possible, but the sheer number of smartphone models in the world make it easy to see why phones haven’t been added to the list — especially as each airline has to conduct its own series of tests and not rely on others.
Which devices would be approved?
Right now, unless it’s a portable voice recorder or an electric razor, it’s got to be switched off, a rule that’s easy to explain and easy for everyone to understand. However, a more extensive list of F.A.A. approved gadgets, based on individual tests, would be out-of-date almost as soon as it was published given the rate new devices are being released.
If a wider range of electronic devices are going to be given a stamp of approval, and for the rule to be at least vaguely enforceable, it’ll have to be on a mass scale and based more on universal component tests or connectivity, rather than by device or brand.
However, as the F.A.A. has already approved the Apple iPad for use by pilots, it must only be a short step to giving passengers the same option, a move sure to please Apple and its fans, but anger everybody else.
According to the article, the F.A.A. doesn’t have an alternative to the existing approval process yet, but is “going to figure out a way to start testing new electronics on airplanes” soon.