| NEW YORK, Sept 26
NEW YORK, Sept 26 Airplane passengers would be
allowed broader use of mobile devices, laptops and tablets
during flights, under a proposal U.S. air safety regulators are
due to begin considering next week.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will receive in the
next few days advice about allowing greater use of personal
electronic devices on aircraft from an advisory committee drawn
from government and the aviation and consumer electronics
industries, according to people familiar with the matter.
The new rules are likely to increase use of in-flight
Internet service provided by companies such as Gogo Inc
, and may affect standards for electronic device
manufacturers, such as Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics
, Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc.
The rules also could make it easier for airlines to allow
passengers to plug their own electronics into in-flight
entertainment systems, allowing airlines to save the weight of
providing screens for everyone.
Current FAA rules require devices be switched off below
10,000 feet and ban cellphone calls at any altitude because of
the risk they can interfere with airplane radios and other
systems. Passengers often are allowed to make calls after a
plane, even while it is on an active taxiways.
Recognizing that many travelers want to use smartphones,
tablets, laptops and e-readers during takeoff and landing, the
FAA last year set up the advisory group and took public comments
on what could be accomplished without compromising safety.
Many passengers have expressed strong concerns that the
rules are either a nuisance, or that they are necessary to avert
a crash, leading to confusion and stress. Many passengers
routinely ignore the rules, leaving devices on purposely or by
The 28-member committee approved the report on Wednesday and
is due to submit it to the FAA by Monday, according to people
familiar with the matter. The committee did not consider
allowing greater use of cell phones.
Instead, the report suggest specific ways that other
electronics can be made safer in other phases of flight, by
plane makers airlines and others involved in flight safety.
"There's no way they can police the individual devices,"
"The solution is make sure the aircraft can handle whatever is
thrown at it," said one person familiar with the matter.
Cell phone use has surfaced as one of the most divisive
issues, but that issue was left out of the FAA's consideration
since it is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Delta Air Lines said in a letter to the FAA last
year that it found that virtually all of the violations with
personal electronic devices on flights occur while planes are
taxiing and most involve cell phone use. But the airline said it
has seen no corresponding increase in safety problems.
"The benefits of expanded in-flight PED usage outweigh the
extreme low risk of an actual interference event occurring,
based on the data Delta has assembled," Kirk Thornburg, Delta's
managing director of aviation flight safety, said in the letter.
Thornburg, chair of the advisory committee, said Delta
recommends allowing passengers to make cell calls while a plane
is on the ground, and allowing them to use approved "non-voice,
non-sound" throughout a flight. Airlines would still be the ones
to decide which devices are approved.
But approval could be complicated, especially with the
proliferation of devices and uncertainty about whether they are
functioning properly and in what mode.
"Since you can't test all the PEDs out there, and passengers
are ignoring the rules, the report details various
recommendations, methods and techniques that operators can
follow to assure themselves and the FAA that PEDs can be safely
used by passengers and flight crew throughout all phases of
flight," said a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke
on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak
Pilots would retain authority to order passengers to shut
off and stow devices if conditions warrant it, the source added.
The FAA has long wrestled with the issue of electronics on
flights, publishing its first rule in 1966, after studies showed
FM radios could interfere with navigation systems.
Some airlines hope to launch in-flight entertainment systems
that will stream movies and music across passengers' devices.
Industry experts say the airlines expect they could reduce the
weight of the plane by relying on passenger devices, saving fuel
and lowering operating costs.
Doug Kidd, executive director of the National Association of
Airline Passengers and a member of the committee, said his group
was surprised electronics were more of a concern than seat width
and leg room. But he said interference from electronics is real,
so the focus is on how to protect against it.
Pilots have told him they heard cell phone noise in their
headsets while flying. Even though people were not talking, the
phones were still trying to connect to cell towers.
"There is interference out there and it is noticed," he
said. "We don't like to see the pilots distracted."