In late August, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it was taking an initial step toward allowing more widespread use of Portable Electronic Devices (PED)–like readers and tablets–on aircraft.  The FAA will form a government-industry group to consider the issue beginning this fall.

According to an FAA press release, “[c]urrent FAA regulations require an aircraft operator to determine that radio frequency interference from PEDs are not a flight safety risk before the operator authorizes them for use during certain phases of flight.”

A recent New York Times article noted current FAA rules require that in order to allow the use of a PED during flights “an airline must test each iteration of a device on each type of plane, without passengers, before it can be approved.”

Agency officials say that safety will remain the agency’s primary priority.  However, the government-industry group will consider new technologies and testing methods that aircraft operators might use to better determine whether a specific PED will actually interfere with radio frequency and flight safety.  The group will also consider designs for future aircraft that will better prevent flight interference resulting from the use of PEDs.  The use of cell phones for voice communication is not included within the scope of the group’s study.

Representatives from both the airline and electronics industries have indicated that they are eager for the FAA to approve changes in the regulations regarding the use of PEDs on aircraft.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos told the New York Times that the company has done its own experiments on the safety of using Amazon PED products, such as the Kindle, on aircraft.  According to Bezos, using the Kindle airborne “wasn’t a problem.”

Nevertheless, the formation of the FAA’s government-industry group comes just a little over a year after ABC News reported on a confidential industry study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) providing evidence that PED’s have caused real safety problems in-flight.  The study–which surveyed 125 airlines from 2003 to 2009–documented 75 incidents of “possible electronic interference . . . linked to mobile phones and other electronic devices.”

The working group will meet for a six-month period.  In the meantime, the FAA also is seeking comments on a range of considerations related to the use of PEDs on aircraft–including “operational, safety and security challenges associated with expanding PED use” and “development of consumer electronics industry standards for aircraft friendly PEDs.”


–Kathleen Meyers

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2 Responses to FAA to Study Portable Electronic Device Use on Planes

  1. Michael Dearington says:

    I agree with you, Caitlin, about your cellphone concerns. Flyers represent one of the most captive common audiences, in my opinion, and allowing cellphones may have the effect of creating the airplane equivalent of “quiet cars,” polarizing the various divisions of the airplane. Unfortunately, I think common courtesy needs to be regulated by an airline where the stakes are high (no pun intended) enough (e.g., in a situation where you cannot even change seats).

  2. Caitlin Angelette says:

    Am I the only one who’s hoping that cell phones for voice never ever becomes legal on an airplane? Purely social reasons. We have enough problems with people getting testy in the air already, without the people talking on their phones the whole time. Can you imagine being stuck on a plane for three or four hours next to someone who is committing the sin of overshare via cell?

    Chaos, mass chaos.

    I’ve been under the impression that the FAA has been perpetuating the myth that PEDs cause flight disturbances simply because they want to avoid that exact scenario.