| NEW YORK, Sept 30
NEW YORK, Sept 30 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
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
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."