US flight regulator to look again at in-flight use of electronics, may relax rules

If you’ve ever flown, you’ll be more than a little familiar with the take-off and landing procedures, which include switching off all personal electronic devices (PEDs), a source of frustration among many nervous flyers who would rather listen to some calming tunes on their music player than the roar of the engines as they hurtle down the runway in an aluminum tube laden with highly inflammable fuel.

Likewise, taking a few photos of the landscape below with your digital camera as you come in to land will, if you get spotted, result in a few stern words from a member of the cabin crew.


Can it really be the case that all PEDs have inner workings that, if switched on, are going to bring the plane down? Despite people discreetly using their iPods or e-readers during take-offs and landings, has there ever been a report of an aviation accident caused by a PED? Aren’t airplane crashes usually the result of pilot error or catastrophic mechanical failure rather than Mr. Smith in seat 43A using his music player?

With a Reuters report on Monday about Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to take a closer look at the use of PEDs on flights, perhaps things are about to change for the better for passengers with a bag of gadgets under the seat.

Study group

The report says that starting in the fall, a new study group will examine the procedures airlines use to discover whether a gadget or gizmo can be safely used during a flight, or parts of a flight. However, the group will not be considering whether to allow passengers to make calls using mobile phones.

As things currently stand, airlines have to show that a device doesn’t cause potentially dangerous radio interference before they can be given the green light for use during a flight.

Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said of the plans: “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,” adding, “We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow’s aircraft designs are protected from interference.”

Speaking to Forbes about the FAA’s plans, Steve Lott, a spokesperson for industry trade group Airlines for America, said: “The safety of our passengers and crews remains our top priority and our members will work cooperatively with the FAA on opportunities to evaluate personal electronic devices to ensure customers can use these products safely during flight.”

Troublesome passengers

Though there have been reports of pilots suspecting PEDs as the cause of some mysterious happenings on the flight deck, no link has ever been proved.

Indeed, the biggest PED-related problem appears not to be interference with an aircraft’s flying instruments, but stubborn passengers who cause trouble by refusing to switch off their device – remember the incident late last year when actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off a plane for refusing to turn off his phone during what must have been a particularly exciting game of Words With Friends?

With more and more people dumping paper books in favor of e-readers, and with other PEDs gaining in popularity, it would be great if the airlines discovered that actually many of these devices are safe to use during any part of the flight. We await the study groups’s decision….

[Image: Dimitriy Shironosov / Shutterstock]

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