Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moved to let passengers use their smartphones and tablets during airline take-offs and landings. At first glance, this seems like a victory for reasonableness, productivity, and looking out for the rights of technology end users. Even The New York Times said "the agency won unusually broad praise from pilots, flight attendants and members of Congress, along with passengers."
But a closer look reveals that the FAA has in fact unwittingly written a guide of what NOT to do when creating a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy - which is essentially what this is. The FAA's policy may be a step in the right direction for fliers, but it remains plagued with vague instructions, unsupported reasoning, and painfully convoluted processes. Smart IT departments can learn some useful lessons about as they wrestle managing how their users are supposed to work with various devices and access corporate networks.
1. It's confusing. Any techie worth his pocket protector knows that workable policies have to be clear to everyone. How can users do what they're supposed to do if they can't even figure out what they're supposed to do? And the FAA's policy has so many caveats, exceptions, and implementation variables that even flight attendants don't have a clue about what's acceptable - much less passengers.
2. It's unenforceable. Say what you will about the old rules, at least you could tell from the aisle whether someone was using a banned device. But you can't tell if a device is in airplane mode without making the user hand it over - which isn't supposed to be part of the new rules. A good thing, too: Can you imagine a corporate BYOD policy that let IT folks demand execs hand over their smartphone like policemen asking for your papers?
3. Its logical underpinnings are suspect. Banning the use of portable electronics during take off and landing was based on the possibility that they could cause interference with airplane navigation systems. It turned out there was little evidence of that. But the FAA still says cellphone calls could disrupt radio communications, and the new approach actually makes it more likely for that to happen. If these things really are dangerous - and all the exceptions seem to indicate that they could be in certain cases - then why are we so eager to let people do this?
4. It throws ultimate responsibility on to the users. Instead of setting a single policy, the FAA is now requiring every airline to get an individual safety certification for each type of airplane it flies. Planes that may be more vulnerable to radio interference may have different rules. Oh, and if there's bad weather and low visibility (estimated to be about 1% of the time), the airlines may be required to make passengers shut down their devices. That's right?
5. It undermines respect for other rules. This whole thing is a complete debacle, from the patently ridiculous old rules to the confusing, illogical, and unenforceable new ones that airlines are required to interpret on the fly. It all adds up to making the FAA and the airlines look stupid and out of touch, and erodes passengers willingness to follow other - presumably more important - regulations. And that could have truly disastrous consequences.