FAA to allow use of electronics for entire flights

Each airline will need to get FAA approval before offering their passengers gate-to-gate use of their portable electronics

Globe-trotting laptop workaholics and electronic media junkies will soon no longer fidget helplessly during the beginning and ending of their flights: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has lifted the ban on use of personal electronics during the take-off and landing of airplanes, provided that the electronic devices are used in airplane mode.

Over the next few months, each airline will enact their own policies that will permit their passengers to use their own devices through an entire flight.

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Airplane passengers, in most cases, will be able to read electronic books and magazines, watch videos, play video games, listen to music and work on their computers throughout an entire flight.

Their devices must be in airplane mode, however, which will not allow them to be used voice communications or data transmission through mobile networks. The devices can, however, connect with an airplane's Wi-Fi service, if one is offered. Short-range, device-to-device communication, through Bluetooth for instance, is also permissible.

This change in policy has been long called for, at least by voracious users of electronic devices, who saw the ban as unnecessary.

Currently, airline passengers in the U.S. are required power down their smartphones, tablets, laptops and electronic readers when the airplane is taking off or landing.

Since people started bringing personal electronic communication devices on flights, the FAA assumed a cautious stance of limiting their use, fearing the devices would interfere with the airplane's radio frequency communications.

The FAA's Personal Electronic Device Aviation Rulemaking Committee concluded in a report earlier this year that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from portable devices. For the new ruling, the FAA also took feedback from airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants and the mobile technology industry.

Mobile phone communications falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which the FAA has urged to review its rules on in-flight use. Unlike other mobile electronic operations, cell phones send out relatively powerful signals that could interfere with in-flight radio communications.

Even devices that do not transmit signals can hamper a plane's communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment because they may emit radio energy at the same frequencies as the plane's equipment.

The airlines should determine how much radio interference their own communications systems can withstand. The airlines must then set their own conditions for usage and get FAA approval for these conditions.

The current FAA policy will remain in effect on an airline-by-airline basis until the FAA gives each airline approval to switch to the new policy.

Even after the new policy is adopted, an airline may also need to have their passengers shut down their devices during periods of low visibility to ensure adequate communications in such adverse conditions. The FAA expects that such conditions would apply to about one percent of all flights.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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