FAA Ban of Wireless Device Use on Aircraft to be Reexamined

By J. Bradford Currier, Marc Martin, and Marty Stern

Recognizing the ubiquitous nature of wireless devices in modern life, the Federal Aviation Administration has announced the establishment of a government/industry working group which will reexamine the rules governing passenger use of electronic devices during flight. Current federal regulations ban mobile phone use during flight, as well the use of laptops and other personal electronic devices below 10,000 feet, due to concerns that the devices could interfere with critical aircraft instruments. Critics suggest that the current rules are too restrictive and overstate the risks of airplane interference from personal electronic devices.

The working group will undertake a six-month inquiry into the proper technological standards for in-flight personal electronic device use and present its recommendations to the FAA. Critically, the group will not consider the airborne use of mobile phones for voice communications. The working group will be formally established in the fall and include “representatives from the mobile technology and aviation manufacturing industries, pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines, and passenger associations.”

The FAA also released a Request for Comments (responses due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register) seeking public input on the current restrictions on in-flight personal electronic device use. Specifically, the FAA seeks comment in nine areas:

  • Operational, safety, and security challenges associated with expanding personal electronic device use.
  • Data sharing between aircraft operators and manufacturers to facilitate authorization of personal electronic device use.
  • Necessity of new certification regulations requiring aircraft designs to tolerate personal electronic device emissions.
  • Information-sharing for manufacturers who have demonstrated electronic device/aircraft compatibility to facilitate new and modified aircraft designs. 
  • Development of industry standards for aircraft-friendly devices or aircraft-compatible modes of operation. 
  • Publication of aircraft operators’ personal electronic device policies.
  • Restrictions on personal electronic device use during takeoff, approach, landing, and abnormal conditions to avoid distracting passengers during safety briefings and prevent possible passenger injury.
  • Development of standards for systems that actively detect potentially hazardous personal electronic device emissions.
  • Technical challenges associated with personal electronic device use, and support from device manufacturers to commercial aircraft operators.

UpdateThe FAA’s Request for Comments has been published in the Federal Register.  Comments will be accepted until October 30, 2012.

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