FAA allows passengers to keep electronic devices turned on

Cell phone calls on aircraft in flight is still prohibited by FCC restrictions
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After months of rumors and news leaks, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally decided to allow business travelers and other airline passengers to use their personal electronic devices throughout the flight.

The new policy will not take effect immediately, because each airline has to certify that their aircraft can operate safely with electronic devices turned on during all phases of flight.

The FAA expects that airlines will have completed the process by the end of the year, so that passengers can anticipate being able to use their electronic devices in airplane mode through flights next year.

The FAA said it based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants and the mobile technology industry. The group of experts, set up by the FAA, submitted a report in September recommending that most restrictions be lifted on use of personal mobile devices on airplanes.

"These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future," says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

There is one big exception to this, however. Passengers still cannot use their cell phones to make voice calls during the flight, based on Federal Communications Commission rules prohibiting their use. The FAA is asking the FCC to reconsider those rules.

The concern is that long-range cellular communication could interfere with the airplanes avionics, so no mobile devices can use cellular communications during flight, the FAA explained. So the cellular connection must be disabled. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connections can be used during flight, the agency added.

During takeoff and landing, lighter electronics, such as tablets, e-readers and smartphones should be held or stored in the seat back pocket. However, heavier items, presumably laptops and notebooks, have to be stored under the seat or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing.

Commenting on the FAA's decision, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection says: "This is great news for the traveling public-and frankly, a win for common sense. I applaud the FAA for taking the necessary steps to change these outdated regulations and I look forward to the airlines turning around quick plans for implementation."

As FierceMobileIT reported earlier this year, McCaskill had been pushing for the FAA to lift its restrictions and threatened to introduce legislation to force the FAA to act if it didn't act on its own.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents nearly 50,000 pilots in the United States and Canada, is less exuberant about the FAA decision.

"While we applaud the FAA's view that [personal electronic device] use must be shown to be safe before being allowed, we remain concerned that relying on passengers to selectively turn off their devices in areas of extremely poor weather is not a practical solution," ALPA said in a statement.

For more:
- see the FAA release
- check out McCaskill's statement
- see the ALPA statement

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