The Federal Aviation Administration is considering flight rules changes that would allow U.S. airline passengers to use their e-reader devices during takeoffs and landings, as well as during flights, under proposals that are being evaluated by the agency.
The more flexible rules are being considered by an industry working group announced last August by the FAA that is looking at whether existing rules for in-flight use of electronics need to be modified. The group began meeting in January.
The FAA "hopes to announce by the end of this year that it will relax the rules for reading devices during takeoff and landing," according to a March 24 blog post from The New York Times. The proposed rules changes would not, however, allow airline passengers to use their cell phones during any phase of a flight.
Instead of having to turn off their e-readers as they do today during takeoffs and landings, passengers would have to place the devices into "airplane mode," which temporarily disables their wireless functions, the blog post reported.
"One member of the group and an official of the FAA, both of whom asked for anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about internal discussions, said the agency was under tremendous pressure to let people use reading devices on planes, or to provide solid scientific evidence why they cannot," according to the blog post.
The rules on electronic devices and their use during flights relate to concerns that the devices could potentially interfere with the sensitive avionics equipment that is used by flight crews to control their airplanes during all phases of flight.
An FAA official could not be reached by eWEEK for comment.
If the FAA does modify the use of certain portable electronic devices (PEDs) aboard airliners, it would likely please many business and vacation travelers who carry a widening array of devices with them when they fly.
The FAA created the working group—the Aviation Rulemaking Committee—with a diverse group of members from government and industry so the members can examine existing rules and procedures regulating the devices and consider all sides of the issue, according to the agency.
Currently, passengers on aircraft in the United States are instructed to turn off their PEDs, including cell phones, laptop computers and gaming systems, for takeoffs and landings. Some devices may be used again once a flight is at cruising level, including laptops and gaming systems. Cell phone use is not permitted at all until the aircraft has landed, under FAA rules.
The working group is working to determine technological standards that could guide the future use of PEDs during any phase of flight, the agency said. Once those recommendations are assembled, they will be presented to the FAA.
The working group will look at potential interference from PEDs and how it can affect aircraft systems in flight. The potential for aircraft interference depends on the aircraft and its electrical and electronic systems, as well as the type of PED being used, according to the FAA. Prior to fly-by-wire flight controls, the primary concern was the susceptibility of sensitive aircraft communication and navigation radio receivers to spurious radio-frequency emissions from PEDs. Many of these aircraft using this older technology are still in service and are as susceptible today to interference as they were when they first entered service, the agency stated.
E-readers didn't exist when the first rules for electronic devices were written and enacted, which is why the agency is reviewing them today.
In December 2012, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, also got involved in the discussion when he sent a letter to the FAA requesting more relaxed restrictions on the use of electronic devices, such as tablets, e-readers and other portable devices, during takeoff and landing.
Cell phone use aboard aircraft isn't being addressed by the FAA because of existing rules from the FCC, which prohibit the practice.
In December 2011, actor Alec Baldwin was removed from a flight after he reportedly refused to turn his smartphone off while the aircraft he had boarded was sitting at a gate prior to departure.