FAA Reviewing Passenger Use of Electronic Devices

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

With electronic devices firmly entrenched as part of daily lives for many travelers, airlines are under pressure to allow passengers to use their tablets, laptops, smartphone, e-readers and other devices without restriction during flights. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working on a set of regulations to govern the use of these devices on airplanes, but is reportedly far from ready to put any new rules into action, with the delay being attributed to the authority’s desire to put into place a concise set of regulations to deal with current, and even future, technology.

A year ago, the industry working group set up by the FAA noted that, faced with evolving electronic technology, the FAA was reviewing the use of personal electronic devices, excluding the use of cellphones, on aircraft. A full year later the FAA appears to be no closer to resolving the issue and this has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters. Among the critics is Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO) who recently announced her plans to circumvent the FAA and introduce legislation allowing passengers the freedom to use their electronic devices throughout a flight.

The increasing number of different types of electronic devices brought by passengers onto airplanes is adding to the difficulty of drafting a set of standard regulations. The FAA working group needs to include all these devices and take into account the different modes of operation they offer. Currently a number of electronic devices include an “airplane mode” option, which generally means that they do not send or receive wireless signals, but this is not necessarily standard across all devices with this option. Also, there is concern that FAA’s desire to have rules that will apply to devices of the future may not be realistic given the speed at which technology is developing. The group has apparently also noted concerns over expecting already busy flight attendants to police the use of various devices.

The initial concern with the use of electronic devices on flights addressed, among other things, the issue of possible interference with electronic signals pilots rely on for safe flight. To date, the FAA reportedly has no record of aviation accidents caused by interference from personal electronic devices. Flight attendants note that their main concern is that passengers should not be using electronic devices when the safety measures are presented at the beginning of the flight, as they need to hear and understand what should be done in the event of an emergency.

The FAA anticipates a final report from the working group later this year, with rule changes being implemented by the end of 2013.

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