FAA to Consider Relaxing In-Flight Rules on Electronics

By Woodrow Bellamy III | September 26, 2013
Send Feedback

FAA’s rules regulating the use of personal electronic devices (PED) on commercial aircraft are expected to change by 2014, as a federal advisory panel meets this week to complete its recommendations for changing the regulations. 

(Photo: Internet OnAir on Emirates A380 Passenger connects onboard Emirates’ A380 Copyright – Emirates.)

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) consisting of PED manufacturers and trade associations, pilot and flight attendant groups, airline operators and associations and aircraft manufacturers is meeting this week to complete recommendations to submit to FAA to alter its rules regulating the in-flight use of PEDs. Currently the agency requires passengers to turn off all devices during takeoffs and landings; that rule is likely to be changed to allow the use of Wi-Fi, while still prohibiting sending or receiving emails and text messages below 10,000 feet to prevent interference with critical aircraft systems. 

The ARC’s recommendations are due by the end of the month for changes that will likely go into effect next year. FAA has come under scrutiny over the last year from lawmakers and trade associations that believe its ban on PEDs below 10,000 feet is unjustified, especially with pilots increasingly using tablet devices in the cockpit, and the fact that many passengers never turn off their devices at any time during the flight which has not produced reports of interference. In 2012, FAA updated its guidance for approving airlines to allow pilots to use EFBs in the cockpit, requiring that they demonstrate that the device does not interfere with an aircraft’s electronic systems.

A study released this year by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association found about 30 percent of passengers said they had left a device on during takeoff or landing.

“The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft, and that is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions. The group is meeting again this week and is expected to complete a report to the FAA by the end of the month. We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps,” FAA said in a statement to Avionics Magazine.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been critical of FAA’s PED policy, in August wrote a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta urging the ARC to finish its recommendations as quickly as possible. The ARC was originally supposed to submit its recommendations in July, but requested more time to further consider technological standards associated with the use of PEDs during any phase of flight. 

“Given the technological advancement of both PEDs and critical air navigation and flight control systems since the rules were put in place, updated protocols for safe use of PEDs on board commercial flights are long overdue,” said McCaskill. 

Another factor that further complicates the ARC’s rulemaking process is airline’s mixed fleet of older and new aircraft, because older airplanes are more susceptible to interference. Modern passenger aircraft feature digital cockpit displays, fly-by-wire controls and flight management systems that are certified to withstand interference. However, even those aircraft use systems, such as global positioning, traffic collision avoidance and weather tracking that rely on ground or satellite signals that are susceptible to interference from PEDs. When installing Wi-Fi routers for in-cabin use, FAA requires a Supplemental Type Certification (STC) specific to an aircraft’s make and model to ensure onboard avionics systems are shielded from potential interference.

Not up for consideration is the use of cell phones during flight because Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) regulations prohibit airborne calls using cell phones. 

Related: FAA Delays Decision on In-Flight Use of PEDs


Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox