Report: FAA set to relax restrictions on passenger access to mobile devices

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A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel will meet this week to complete a recommendation on relaxing rules preventing airline passengers from accessing tablets and e-readers during takeoff and landing, The New York Times reports.

According to panel members who requested anonymity, the new guidelines are expected to allow travelers greater access to tablets like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad and dedicated e-readers like Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle, letting them read e-books and other digital publications, listen to podcasts and watch videos. It is expected that airlines will continue to ban passengers from sending and receiving e-mails and text messages or using Wi-Fi during takeoff or landing, also prohibiting voice calls throughout the flight.

The panel will recommend the changes to the FAA by the end of this month and the new policy will most likely go into effect sometime in 2014, sources added. The group wants to present a single policy from "gate to gate" that would apply to all airlines and all aircraft models: Instead of testing devices, the FAA will request that airlines certify whether their planes can tolerate interference--something they have done when installing onboard Wi-Fi service, for example.

The FAA created the advisory group last year, tapping representatives from Amazon, Boeing, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Federal Communications Commission and the Association of Flight Attendants. The panel was slated to release its findings by July 31, but requested an extension until the end of September to sort out some technical issues.

While there is no evidence that tablets, e-readers and other devices affect an aircraft's avionics, travelers are still told to turn off these products at the beginning and end of their flight. At the same time, the FAA permits use of electric razors and audio recorders during all phases of flight, even though studies indicate those devices generate more electronic emissions than tablets. The FCC blocks in-flight voice communications because they interfere with transmissions between cell towers on the ground.

"This is like shooting at a moving target," said Douglas Kidd, the head of the National Association of Airline Passengers and a member of the panel. "We have to make sure the planes can handle this. But there's a lot of pressure on the FAA because passengers are very attached to their devices."

For more:
- read this New York Times article

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