FAA To Relax In-Flight Electronic Device Rules

US airline passengers will be allowed to use electronic devices all the time, but mobile phones are still banned

The FAA has announced new rules that will soon allow airline passengers on US flights to use most personal electronic devices (PEDs) during any phase of a flight, including taxiing and takeoff, as well as climbing and landing.

What that means, according to the agency, is that e-readers, gaming devices, video players and similar devices will no longer have to be shut down for takeoffs and landings.

Airplane Mode

Cell phones, meanwhile, will no longer have to be completely shut off, as requested by many airlines, but will instead be permitted to remain in airplane mode during flights. The new rules will have no effect on existing bans on the use of mobile phones for actual calls during all flights.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737“The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance,” the agency reported in a statement. “Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.”

The relaxation of the flight rules come after the FAA has been looking into the PED issue for more than a year so it could garner opinions from experts, including airline representatives, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants and the mobile technology industry, according to the agency.

“Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions,” the statement said. “Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled – ie no signal bars displayed – and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones.”

FAA Investigation

The FAA in August 2012 created a working group made up of government and industry leaders, called the Aviation Rulemaking Committee, to examine the rules and procedures that regulated PEDs so that they could decide whether policy changes are possible, according to an earlier eWEEK report. One key issue that wasn’t up for discussion, though, was the existing ban on in-flight cell phone use, which will continue indefinitely. Cell phone usage actually comes under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is a key reason that the FAA has not made rulings that could permit cell phone use on airplanes, according to the FAA.

“We believe today’s decision honours both our commitment to safety and consumer’s increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much-anticipated guidelines in the near future.”