New FAA Rules Let Airline Passengers Keep Electronic Devices Turned On

NEWS ANALYSIS: Flyers shouldn't expect any immediate changes since it could take months for airlines to decide to allow you to use your Kindle during takeoff.

You knew it was going to happen. You knew that eventually the Federal Aviation Administration would relent and you'd be able to keep reading that novel you have on your Kindle (or your iPad or your Surface) during airliner takeoffs and landings.

Now, finally, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced in an Oct. 31 press conference held in the main concourse at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport that the FAA was issuing guidelines that will allow the airlines to let you read in peace.

Just don't expect it to happen right away. In fact, it probably won't happen in 2013. Why the wait? Well this is the FAA, and nothing happens quickly. But this isn't just bureaucratic inertia. The FAA is responsible airliner flight safety. So the agency took its time to make sure that electronic devices could be handled safely. But now it will take a while to make sure that the process is implemented safely.

The next step is that each airline must certify that its aircraft can operate safely with personal electronic devices turned on in all phases of flight. Once that happens the airlines will allow passengers to use those devices, but only with some restrictions. Even if they're turned on, devices must be in Airplane Mode during takeoff and landing, for example.

The FAA has given permission for the airlines to allow WiFi operations while in flight, which some already do now. But WiFi will still be limited to altitudes above 10,000 feet and could be disabled when the pilot feels it's necessary.

There's one other little pesky rule. You still won't be allowed to use your cell phone in flight due to rules from the Federal Communications Commission. The FAA has asked the FCC to consider what type of cell phone calling to allow and under what conditions. But that hasn't happened yet.

This new ruling may come as a surprise to some airline passengers who have been told by flight crews that something as simple as turning on an iPad could cause an airliner to drop from the skies, but in fact the airlines have known for years that this isn't the case. Pilots have been using devices known as electronic flight bags for years without incident. More recently, EFB software has been available for the iPad and other devices since the iPad came out. None of these devices caused problems for air travel, either.

But there's a difference between having a couple of iPads operating in the cockpit and a planeload of electronic devices running at the same time.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...