FAA Looks to Revise Rules for Electronic Devices on Airplanes
After a long delay, millions of iPods and Kindles finally may be cleared for takeoff. On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it might allow more leeway on the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) on airplanes, pending the results of a study set to launch this fall.
Under current regulations, airlines are allowed to make the call about what devices can and cant be used aboard, without obtaining specific FAA approval. But aircraft operators also have to make a determination that specific devices wont interfere with communication and navigation systems, and most airlines dont allow passengers to use PEDs during takeoff and landing.
So now the agency is looking to the industryalong with mobile technology companies, pilot and flight attendant groups, and passenger associationsfor across-the-board input, noting that both PEDs and aircraft systems have evolved over time.
Recognizing that some passengers may wish to use their devices throughout a flight, the FAA is requesting comments regarding the FAAs policies, guidance, and procedures that aircraft operators use to determine whether to allow a particular PED for usage during flight, the agency stated in a request for public comment [PDF].
The current guidance was laid out well before devices like smartphones and tablets became ubiquitous on passenger flights. I think the FAA simply has been behind the times, says Edward Faberman, co-chair of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, and former assistant chief counsel at the FAA. This was not as high a priority as it probably should have been.
How did we get here? Lets go to the (selected) timeline:
1958: The FAA gets help from the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (now RTCA, Inc.), a private nonprofit that advises the agency. The RTCA writes documents to help airlines make the PED allowance determination, the agency states.
19581961: Studies of PED interference conclude that portable frequency modulation (FM) radio receivers caused interference to navigation systems such as very high frequency (VHF) Omni Range (VOR) navigation systems, according to the FAA.
1966: The FAA publishes its first rulemaking on the issue, responding to public concerns about subjecting individual airlines to too much red tape around the use of specific devices. Ergo:
In response to those comments, the FAA concluded that the aircraft operators were best suited to make the determination of which PEDs would not cause interference with the navigation or communication systems on their aircraft. The FAA also recognized that for it to place requirements upon itself to conduct or verify tests of every conceivable PED, as an alternative to a determination made by the operator, would thereby place an excessive and unnecessary burden on the agency.
1979: Sony invents the Walkman.
1983: RTCA begins to investigate PEDs anew.
1988: RTCA publishes a report on that investigation, concluding that signal emitters such as cellular phones, remote control toys, and citizen band radios could cause interference and should be banned from aircraft, according to Airlines for America, a major industry association for airlines. The RTCA found no compelling evidence of interference from PEDs that do not emit a signal, but nonetheless recommended they be banned from use during takeoffs and landings to assure an added margin of safety during those critical phases of flight.
1992: The Air Transport Association (now Airlines for America) petitions the FAA to take up the RTCA recommendations as federal regulation. However, [the] FAA opted for further study and commissioned RTCA to resume its efforts. (Source: Airlines for America)
1996: RTCA publishes another study and makes more recommendations, including that the FAA should prohibit the use of any PED during any critical phase of flight and that PED testing efforts of existing and new devices should continue. (Source: Airlines for America)
2001: The iPod is invented.
2006: The current guidelines to assist aircraft operators in developing their PED policy are published in Advisory Circular 91-21-1B, Use of Portable Electronic Devices Aboard Aircraft. (Source: FAA)
2007: The iPhone is invented.
2011: Actor Alec Baldwin tussles with flight attendant; refuses to power down iPad; is kicked off the plane.
Now: As Flight Safety Foundation chief operating officer (and former Delta pilot) Kevin Hiatt told NBC News: Its time for us to either verify that we want to keep the rules in place or go ahead and modify as necessary. He adds that, itll be complicated . . . [but] lets get some better rules around this and some better understanding so it takes a little bit of the edge off with the passenger.