FAA to reevaluate inflight portable electronic device use – no cell phones though

FAA says communications changes may let some devices operate safely

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If you have been on a commercial airline, the phrase "The use of any portable electronic equipment while the aircraft is taxiing, during takeoff and climb, or during approach and landing," is as ubiquitous but not quite as tedious as "make sure your tray tables are in the secure locked upright position."

But the electronic equipment restrictions may change. The Federal Aviation Administration today said it was forming a government-industry group to study the current portable electronic device use policies commercial aviation use to determine when these devices can be used safely during flight.  The group however will not "consider the airborne use of cell phones for voice communications during flight."

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The FAA says this group will look at a variety of issues, including the testing methods aircraft operators use to determine which new technologies passengers can safely use aboard aircraft and when they can use them.  These devices include CD or cassette players, MP3 players, DVD players, digital audio players, electronic calculators, electronic cameras,  Global Positioning Satellite monitors, hand-held electronic games, laptops, pagers, video camcorders and eReaders like Kindle.

 The group will also look at the establishment of technological standards associated with the use of portable electronic equipment during any phase of flight. The group will then present its recommendations to the FAA.

Specifically today FAA regulations require an aircraft operator to determine that radio frequency interference from PEDs are not a flight safety risk before the operator authorizes them for use during certain phases of flight.

The FAA wrote in a paper outlining the reexamination of current policies:  "PEDs have changed considerably in the past few decades and output a wide variety of signals. Some devices do not transmit or receive any signals but generate low-power, radio frequency emissions. Other PEDs, such as e-readers, are only active in this manner during the short time that a page is being changed. Of greater concern are intentional transmissions from PEDs. Most portable electronic devices have internet connectivity that includes transmitting and receiving signals wirelessly using radio waves, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth,5 and various other cellular technologies. These devices transmit high-powered emissions and can generate spurious signals at undesired frequencies, particularly if the device is damaged.

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"Avionics equipment has also undergone significant changes. When the regulations were first established, communication and navigations systems were basic systems. In today's avionics, there are various systems-global positioning, traffic collision and avoidance, transponder, automatic flight guidance and control, and many other advanced avionics systems- that depend on signals transmitted from the ground, other aircraft, and satellites for proper operation. In addition, there are advanced flight management systems that use these avionics as a critical component for performing precision operational procedures. Many of these systems are also essential to realize the capabilities and operational improvements envisioned in the Next Generation airspace system. As such, harmful interference from PEDs cannot be tolerated."

"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," said Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."

The FAA said that the first it will take is gathering public input on current policies. A Request for Comments will appear in the Federal Register on August 28th. You can send your comments to PEDcomment@faa.gov.

The FAA said it is looking for comments in the following areas:

  • Operational, safety and security challenges associated with expanding PED use.
  • Data sharing between aircraft operators and manufacturers to facilitate authorization of PED use.
  • Necessity of new certification regulations requiring new aircraft designs to tolerate PED emissions.
  • Information-sharing for manufacturers who already have proven PED and aircraft system compatibility to provide information to operators for new and modified aircraft.
  • Development of consumer electronics industry standards for aircraft-friendly PEDs, or aircraft-compatible modes of operation.
  • Required publication of aircraft operators' PED policies.
  • Restriction of PED use during takeoff, approach, landing and abnormal conditions to avoid distracting passengers during safety briefings and prevent possible injury to passengers.
  • Development of standards for systems that actively detect potentially hazardous PED emissions.
  • Technical challenges associated with further PED usage, and support from PED manufacturers to commercial aircraft operators.

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