FAA panel recommends easing rules on in-flight devices

Listening to music right before takeoff? Perusing an e-reader when coming in for landing? You may no longer have to power down. An FAA committee wants to loosen the policy for gadget use on airplanes.

The tyPad being used on an airplane seat-back tray. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

The US is on the cusp of major change when it comes to flying in airplanes: no more turning off devices during takeoff and landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee said Thursday that it was recommending dropping this age-old rule, according to the Associated Press. The committee said that personal electronic devices, like smartphones, tablets, and e-readers, shouldn't have to be turned off during flights.

This means that when people are playing games, reading a book on their tablets, watching movies, or listening to music after the cabin doors are shut, they'll no longer get chastised by flight attendants. The same goes when flights are descending for landing.

While passengers will be able to use most devices in-flight, they'll still need to be in airplane mode. According to the Associated Press, Web access, texting, and talking on the phone will still be prohibited.

The FAA's current guidelines prohibit the use of mobile phones and other devices until planes reach an altitude of 10,000 feet. That prohibition has rested on concerns that certain devices could interfere with ground-based wireless networks, creating trouble for airlines flying at low altitudes.

But the advisory panel has said that airplanes are now much more tolerant of any potential interference, while today's mobile devices themselves use less power and send out weaker signals.

"We've been fighting for our customers on this issue for years -- testing an airplane packed full of Kindles, working with the FAA, and serving as the device manufacturer on this committee," Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "This is a big win for customers and, frankly, it's about time."

Ever since the FAA created its advisory committee last year, reports have leaked that the committee was leaning toward allowing devices to be left on during takeoff and landing. It appears that the process is now one step closer toward these guidelines actually passing.

While Thursday's announcement is definitely a look toward big changes, the FAA still has to approve the committee's recommendations. According to the Associated Press, the recommendations will be part of a report given to the FAA next week.

It's expected that the FAA will support the recommendations. Once approved, the new guidelines could go into effect as early as 2014 or could take as long as a year.

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About the author

Dara Kerr, a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area, is fascinated by robots, supercomputers and Internet memes. When not writing about technology and modernity, she likes to travel to far-off countries.

 

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