FCC urges FAA: Let passengers run gadgets during takeoff

airplane travel

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Airplane passengers aren't the only ones fed up with restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has written a letter urging the Federal Aviation Administration to change its rules. The FAA is reviewing its long-held policy against the use of electronics during takeoff and landing, and Genachowski said he supports that process.

Julius Genachowski FCC
Julius Genachowski

“This review comes at a time of tremendous innovation, as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven with our daily lives,” Genachowski wrote, according to The New York Times. “They empower people to stay informed and connect with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth, and boost U.S. competitiveness.”

The FAA previously studied the potential for electromagnetic interference caused by portable electronics in 2006. Although the study didn't find any evidence of grave danger during takeoff and landing, the agency erred on the side of caution, saying it also couldn't find enough evidence to change its long-standing policy. (It's worth noting, though, that American Airlines pilots are allowed to use iPads instead of printed flight manuals.)

Under the current rules, airlines can allow specific electronic devices to be used at all times, but only if the airline can prove there's no danger. To do so, airlines must send each device into the air, with no passengers on board. It's an expensive process even for one device, let alone the hundreds of tablets, laptops, and e-readers that hit the market every year.


In August, the FAA announced that it's reviewing its policies for all portable electronics except cell phones. The plan is to form a working group with government and industry parties, and eventually set new rules on the use of approved electronics during all phases of flight.

That sounds like great news for travelers, but this is the government after all, so don't expect a quick change in policy. The FAA hasn't provided any updates on its plans in the last three months, even though it was supposed to formally establish a working group this fall. Once the group is formed, it'll still take six months to go over the rules, and probably even longer to implement any changes.

But as pressure to change the rules increases—even from within the U.S. government—the FAA won't be able to drag its feet forever. Let's hope this is the beginning of the end of stowing away our gadgets during takeoff and landing.

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