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US Lawmakers Review In-Flight Device Rules

Nathan Eddy is a contributor to eWeek and TechWeekEurope, covering cloud and BYOD

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US regulators want the Federal Aviation Administration to create more permissive rules for the use of portable electronic devices on flights

US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski has sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requesting more relaxed restrictions on the use of electronic devices, such as tablets, e-readers and other portable devices, during takeoff and landing.

“This review comes at a time of tremendous innovation, as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives,” Genachowski wrote in the letter, which was picked up by political blog The Hill. “They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost US competitiveness.”

Changing the rules

The FCC’s current rules prohibit the use of cellular phones using the 800MHz frequency and other wireless devices on airborne aircraft. The ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground, according to the organisation’s website.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the FAA prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. For this same reason, the FAA also regulates the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as iPods and portable DVD players, during flight.

Earlier this year, the FAA formed a government industry group to study the current policies and procedures aircraft operators use to determine when these devices can be used safely during flight. Current FAA regulations require an aircraft operator to determine that radio-frequency interference from PEDs is not a flight safety risk before the operator authorises them for use during certain phases of flight.

Previous review

The group, established through an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, will meet for six months and will include representatives from the mobile technology and aviation manufacturing industries, pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines and passenger associations.

The request from Genachowski is not the first time the FCC has attempted to move forward on the issue of in-flight use of PEDs. In March 2007, the FCC terminated a proceeding that it began in late 2004 to consider potentially lifting the ban.

At that time, the FCC determined that “the technical information provided by interested parties” in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. Therefore, it decided at that time to make no changes in the rules prohibiting in-flight use of PEDs.

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