FAA sets electronics free on flights – mostly

New FAA rules will open the use of more electronics on airliners

After years of debate the Federal Aviation Administration today said airline passengers can by the end of the year use portable electronic devices during all phases of a commercial airline flight.  

Now that doesn't mean there's a blanket gate-to-gate pass for your smart phone or e-reader because every airline will be different and some restrictions will still apply - but at least airlines and passengers will have more options than they have in the past.

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From the FAA: "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. 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 - i.e., no signal bars displayed-and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones.    If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards."

The Portable Electronic Device (PED) Aviation Rulemaking Committee concluded most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from PEDs. In a recent report, the group recommended that the FAA provide airlines with new procedures to assess if their airplanes can tolerate radio interference from PEDs. "Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices - such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones-at all altitudes. In rare instances of low-visibility, the crew will instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing. The group also recommended that heavier devices should be safely stowed under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing," the FAA stated.

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 2012 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."

In updating it policy today, the FAA created a Top 10 list about the new regulations.  It goes like this:

1. Make safety your first priority.

2.  Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.

3.  Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.

4. Cell phones may not be used for voice communications.

5.  Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.

6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.    

7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crewmember's instructions.

8.  It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew's instructions during takeoff and landing.

9.  In some instances of low visibility - about one percent of flights - some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.

10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.

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