U.S. considers expanding tablet, e-reader use on flights

NEW YORK Mon Sep 30, 2013 6:09pm EDT

Related Topics

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. aviation regulators began considering on Monday how to let airplane passengers make greater use of laptops, tablets and e-readers on board, while still ensuring the devices don't compromise flight safety.

The suggestions, contained in a long-awaited report, are a hot-button issue for passengers, many of whom have chafed under strict rules that require portable electronic devices be turned off for takeoff and landing.

Some passengers fear their devices will imperil a flight by disrupting navigation or radio signals. Others consider the risks remote and leave devices on during those critical phases of flight when planes are most prone to accidents.

The report by an industry-government committee recommends allowing tablets and e-readers to remain on at altitudes below 10,000 feet on newer planes that are designed to resist electronic interference, but says larger devices such as laptops or DVD players should still be stowed for takeoff and landing so they don't pose a physical hazard, according to people familiar with the matter.

There are no recommendations to alter the devices themselves; however, older aircraft may need further checks to ensure they won't be affected by interference, these people said. Personal cell phone calls weren't considered by the committee, and would still be banned during flights.

The recommendations arose amid intense interest from the public and some members of Congress, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last year to set up a committee to recommend how the rules should change.

The committee began work in January aiming to conclude in six months. In July it got a two-month extension to come up with guidance on how airlines can assess the safety risks posed to critical flight systems and develop a policy on stowing devices that would work with expanded use of the devices.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta "will review the report and determine next steps," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said Monday.

OLD PLANES, NEW DEVICES

Restrictions on portable electronics on flights have simmered for decades. The FAA first set rules in 1966 to govern in-flight use of FM radios, the hot new technology of the day, after studies showed they interfered with navigation.

Many of the older aircraft remain in use and "are as susceptible today as they were 45 years ago," the FAA said.

The switch to electrical aircraft steering mechanisms from older systems of pulleys, cables and hydraulics posed further risk to the plane, since those critical flight controls, known as "fly-by-wire" systems, added to the components that could be affected by electrical interference.

Current commercial airplanes models, made by Boeing Co, Airbus, Embraer SA and Bombardier Inc, are designed to resist interference from portable electronic devices.

But some older fly-by-wire planes don't have such protection, the FAA said. And even the more recently made aircraft carry delicate navigation and radio equipment that can be influenced by "spurious radio frequency emissions" from portable electronics.

Meanwhile, portable electronics have been revolutionized. Many emit cellular, Bluetooth and internet signals and even those that don't can put out low-power signals that move on radio frequencies, the FAA said. E-readers, for example, can emit a signal when the user turns a page, the FAA said. A damaged device can transmit an even more powerful signal.

So far, the FAA has banned use of portable devices in flight unless airlines have determined they don't pose a hazard. Accordingly, the committee suggested standards airlines can follow to determine if older planes can withstand interference, much as airlines do with inflight WiFi and entertainment systems, one of the sources said.

Private jets follow the same FAA guidelines and restrictions as commercial planes when using portable electronic devices, according to Netjets, a corporate jet leasing company.

Some electronic device makers have taken their own steps to prove their devices are safe. In 2011, Amazon.com tested devices by putting lots of them on a plane and seeing if they interfered with the plane's systems. They didn't, and Amazon submitted that report to the FAA, the company said.

Amazon, which sells both the Kindle Fire tablet and variety of Kindle e-readers, was the only device maker to have a direct seat on the 28-member committee, though the Consumer Electronics Association also was a member.

Drew Herdener, a spokesman for the Seattle-based company, said in a statement that the endorsement of broader use of electronics in flight is "a big win for customers."

"Frankly," he added, "it's about time."

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
OneOfTheSheep wrote:
These unelected, unaccountable agencies and their legions of overweight bureaucrats are PAID BY “we, the people” yet do NOT serve OUR interests. No less than a decade ago the FCC and the FAA should have done testing on airframes old and new to determine if a problem existed. Instead, the attitude has been more like “not my job”.

Well, it IS you job NOT to ban anything that doesn’t pose a credible threat that you can demonstrate and replicate. Why should “regulation” not be both sensible and sensitive to the “needs of the many” (passengers) over the “needs of the few” (lazy, unmotivated paper pushers)..Is anyone surprised that “…passengers have chafed under strict rules that require portable electronic devices be turned off for takeoff and landing…” when those old, outdated practices have NEVER been shown to be either necessary or effective?

It is clear that the disrespect engendered by agency actions and inactions over the years are WHY “Some passengers…consider the risks remote and leave devices on during those critical phases of flight when planes are most prone to accidents.” They have already tested the basic premise and confirmed beyond reasonable doubt such restrictions are unnecessary. If I have to stow my laptop, women should stow any babies on board under the seat or in an overhead locker.

“…older aircraft may need further checks to ensure they won’t be affected by interference, these people said. Well, duh? Why have we allowed this question to remain unanswered all this time? “The committee began work in January aiming to conclude in six months. In July it got a two-month extension to…develop a policy on stowing devices that would work with expanded use of the devices.” I can’t wait to see the size and electronic signature of a remote that would enable an owner to usefully access and “use” a “safely” stowed device.

“Restrictions on portable electronics on flights have simmered for decades.” Yup. “…studies showed they interfered with navigation.” Well, back then they weren’t using satellite GPS designed by our military to resist HOSTILE jamming by our enemies.

“Many of the older aircraft remain in use and “are as susceptible today as they were 45 years ago,” the FAA said.” If that be true then each and every person responsible should be summarily fired without notice and with extreme prejudice.

Our military is still flying B-52s and KC-135s from the sixties, but the engines and sensitive electronics have been upgraded and updated multiple times. Preventing “outside interference” is a matter of appropriate generic design parameters.

The switch to…critical flight controls, known as “fly-by-wire” systems…could be affected by electrical interference.” Once again, if that were a real threat, we would not use such systems in the B-1 and F-111 (the military does).

If “…even the more recently made aircraft carry delicate navigation and radio equipment that can be influenced by “spurious radio frequency emissions” from portable electronics” then let’s hire a few of the old “radio HAMS (before they all die off) to rectify that situation that should not exist in a volume produced consumer Energizer Bunny toy. You CAN fix “stupid”. But why not just write a competent “performance contract” for providers of such systems?

Ahh, the bureaucrat’s “big guns”, the “what if” questions. Please. Yeah, we know that “…the FAA has banned use of portable devices in flight unless airlines have determined they don’t pose a hazard. Basakwards approach. Ban whatever can be shown to represent a problem, pass the rest, people.

“…the committee suggested standards airlines can follow to determine if older planes can withstand interference, much as airlines do with inflight WiFi and entertainment systems, one of the sources said”. If the threat was as serious as they would have us believe, terrorists could just loiter at the landing end of airports, turn on their satellite phones, cell phones, tablets and iPods and watch the carnage.

“Private jets follow the same FAA guidelines and restrictions as commercial planes when using portable electronic devices…”. BULL! You really think Donald Trump or Lady Gaga is going to inconvenience themselves on THEIR plane or charter flight unnecessarily? This is pap for public consumption to keep us calm.

“In 2011, Amazon.com tested devices by putting lots of them on a plane and seeing if they interfered with the plane’s systems. They didn’t.” Well, surprise, surprise! “…the endorsement of broader use of electronics in flight is “a big win for customers…it’s about time.”

They got THAT right!

Sep 30, 2013 11:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.