FAA Moves: New rules for devices on planes

Posted on by Mike Evans

At long last the United States FAA is planning to rewrite the rules on the use of electronic devices on aircraft. The relaxed rules could be implemented by the end of the year and other regulation authorities, including the UK's CAA are likely to follow the American lead.

I am all in favour of safety precuations, especially when taking off or landing in a commercial plane. But the rules for the use of electronic devices are looking ever more antiquated. When they were formulated in 1996 there were no e-readers, no tablets, no smartphones. A lot has happened in the world of technology and, at the same time, aircraft manufactuters have tweaked electronic systems to shield them from harm.

Apparently up to a third of travellers currently forget to turn off their phones, a figure I do not find at all surprising. If there had been problems, therefore, we should have known about them by now.

Prime candidates for freedom are electronic readers such as the Kindle. I hope this relaxation will also be extended to phones and tablets provided they are in airplane mode. It is easy enough, at least on iOS devices, to demonstrate that airplane mode is showing orange and is ON.

Paradoxically, Kindle readers with cellular capabilities offer no quick and easy means of switching off wireless. It is a case of delving into the menus and I am convinced a majority of Kindle users have never ventured that far; almost certainly few even know how to switch off the radios. Furthermore, there is no easy way of demonstating to airline staff that radios have been switched off. In practice, I suspect, no Kindle user bothers to turn off the 3G radio even now (which further confirms the ridiculous and arbitrary nature of the regulations which rely entirely on the honesty and common sense of passengers).

If the new rules specifically allow book readers but continue to ban the use of airplane-mode smartphones and tablets there will be a big injustice. I suggest that all this needs to be taken into account before the FAA goes public on the detail.

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