FAA Considers Lifting Ban on Electronic Devices

Tired of turning off your electronic devices at the beginning and end of a long flight? You might not have to for much longer. A government-industry group formed by the FAA is expected to recommend relaxing the ban.

Currently, flyers are asked to shut off their devices while the plane is below 10,000 feet for fear the devices will interfere with the plane’s instruments. The rule that forces eReaders, iPods, and laptops into off mode was actually written in 1966. At the time, there was concern about electromagnetic interference from devices. But no one could have predicted the proliferation of consumer electronics. So the FAA asked the panel to look into whether it is, in fact, okay to keep electronics on for the duration of a flight.

The panel found that today’s aircraft are much more resilient to interference than their 1966 predecessors. Today’s devices are less of a concern, too. They emit much weaker signals and stay in a tighter frequency range. That makes them less of a concern to the safety of the aircraft. The combination of hardier aircraft instruments and more sophisticated consumer electronics persuaded the panel to give electronics use a thumbs up.

The rules won’t change immediately, however. The final report won’t come out until the end of September, and the FAA won’t change standards until that happens. Commercial airlines are already  looking to capitalize on the potential new rules. Consumer demand for in-flight WiFi on both commercial and corporate jets is huge. This opens up new revenue opportunities for commercial carriers.

One popular gadget hasn’t been granted amnesty on board, however. Cellphones use a much stronger radio frequency, so there is still concern that they could interfere with the plane’s instruments. The panel didn’t examine cellphone safety, so for now, taking calls in-flight will continue to be banned—much to the relief of fellow passengers.

This is all good news for future commercial flights. Passengers will be happy to stay connected to what’s happening on the ground. Of course, it will also be nice to watch your favorite TV show while waiting for take off.

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