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No More Turning Off Your Kindle In-Flight: Why The FAA's Changing Airplane Electronics Rules

In the face of pressure from airlines, legislators, and the public, the FAA's preparing to announce a change in policy for in-flight electronics.

By now, travelers know the in-flight no-electronics ritual. Minutes before takeoff and landing, flight attendants prowl the aisles for stragglers who can't pull themselves away from their iPhones and Kindles. But this ritual is expected to change soon—a federal advisory panel of government and aviation industry officials is expected this week to recommend the FAA revise electronics rules in-flight and make them much more flexible.

In a statement, the FAA said that "consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft. That is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions. The group is meeting again this week and is expected to complete a report to the FAA by the end of the month. We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps."

The likely change is the result of stars aligning on several fronts. Airlines are unhappy that diverting flight attendants to electronics-inspection detail costs them money, passengers hate the inconvenience, and legislators see in-flight electronic reform as an easy portfolio item for reelection. But any proposed changes will only effect electronics like Kindles and iPads: Smartphones are still prohibited during takeoff and landing by FCC order, which is an entirely separate bureaucracy.

[Image: Flickr user Simon_Sees]

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  • Stonerunner16

    After working on the avionics computers for the Space Shuttle for many years, it has been obvious to me that the policy forbidding the use of electronics during takeoff and landing was technically flawed.  1. Wiring in the aircraft are shielded and not likely to allow interference from other devices. 2. Modern software on aircraft "filter" noise from interference. 3. The power of our broadcast electronic devices is too low to penetrate the aircraft to any critical computer functions.  4. They are basing the rule on statistics, which says that something may happen once in every million or so occurrences.  5. Why just takeoff and landing?  Does the aircraft stop having critical computer functions during flight?

  • NA

    I never turn my electronics off during take-off or landing, mostly just to prove a point that now looks like it will be proven.

  • AverageJoe

    Totally agree!  Why turn it off!  Nothing is going to happen.  Just
    because in the past electronic devices interfered with avionic systems
    due to unshielded wiring / is impossible to happen today. 
    I mean planes are only built by the lowest bidder subcontracting to the
    lowest cost vendor...and of course they test against every single new
    electronic device that comes out as soon as it comes out against every plane that is being built not to mention already in service.   What could
    happen?  I mean I know Angry Birds high score or reading two more pages in your book is worth any type of risk.

  • NA

     Just like when cell phones used to blow up gas stations, right? I'll get right on that line of thinking...

  • AverageJoe

    Haha.  Good redirect.  Completely agree in that case it is static electricity built up by the person not the device.

    However on planes RF transmission or EMF generation from your electronic device was a huge concern.  Surrounding wires which run throughout the plane would pick up those signals and the noise would interfere with system operations.  Systems have gotten a lot better being protected by stray signals.  So we may be to the point where it won't cause harm.  But some planes that are still flying are ancient in the technological sense.

    Want to talk about the cigarette warning label next? :)

  • bhobbs63

    Of course, any number of people simply "hide" their devices and never turn them off anyway.  Haven't heard of that causing any impact...