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Ban on use of electronic devices during flights may go shortly
October 03, 2013
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NEW YORK:  In as little as a few months, airline passengers could play video games, read e-books, watch movies and listen to music while their flights take off or land, ending a long-standing ban on devices being used during those risky phases.

But looser rules under consideration for portable electronic devices (PEDs) are likely to force airlines to make some major changes.

Airlines will still look at the plane make, model and avionics systems to guarantee they can handle any stray signals from portable devices.

Carriers, for starters, will need to determine if their planes are “PED resistant” and able to tolerate the proposed broader use of electronics. Some smaller and older planes with less robust avionics may not be, calling for different procedures on device use. 

Cabin crews will need new announcements, placards and ways to monitor broader use of such devices as Apple Inc iPads or Inc Kindles. Bulky devices such as laptops and DVD players will need to be stowed during takeoff and landing, and perhaps even when planes are taxiing for long periods to avoid blocking people in an evacuation.

Most importantly, on some landings in poor weather, passengers may still be required to shut down devices so they won’t interfere with electronic guidance systems that planes rely on to locate the runway.

The new guidelines, under review by the Federal Aviation Administration, put the onus on airlines to ensure planes are operated safely, according to members of a government-industry committee that recommended policy changes to the agency.

“It’s not about certifying devices to be used on airplanes. It’s about certifying airplanes to enable use of devices,” said Douglas Johnson, a committee member and vice president of technology policy at the Consumer Electronics Association. 

Johnson and others said they hoped the FAA would act swiftly on recommendations in the report. Johnson also said he hoped the government shutdown would not slow action on the new guidelines so that they could be in place by yearend.

For now, rules banning use of electronic devices below 10,000 feet remain in effect.

FAA officials did not respond to questions, and email messages said they were unavailable due to the shutdown.

Passengers and electronics makers have long sought to ease restrictions on portable electronics use on flights, and the committee’s effort is likely bring the biggest update in years. The new guidelines pose some tricky questions for air carriers. For example: How will cabin crews deliver safety announcements when passengers are plugged into their own devices?


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