Airline passengers are now allowed to use personal electronic devices (PEDs) throughout all phases of flight, the FAA said Thursday.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta made the announcement based on recommendations from the PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which included representatives from airlines, aircraft manufacturers and in-flight connectivity providers that determined aircraft takeoff and landing systems can tolerate Wi-Fi signals emitted by PEDs.
Cell phone calls will still be banned and rules determining cell phone use are set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Huerta said he expects airlines will allow the use of tablets, smartphones and MP3 players in "airplane mode" which switches cell network communications off.
In its report submitted to Huerta, the ARC determined that during some instances where severe weather produces low-visibility conditions, the airline crew should instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landings. The ARC also said that heavier items such as laptops should be stowed away under seats or within overhead bins for safety reasons.
Additionally, avionics manufacturers will be required to demonstrate that new systems that are considered major changes in type design (STC or ATC), will be required to demonstrate to the FAA that their systems can withstand signal interference from PEDs. Manufacturers currently run these tests when developing new systems already, but the FAA will now make the tests a federally mandated requirement.
“I commend the dedication and excellent work of all the experts who spent the past year working together to give us a solid report so we can now move forward with a safety-based decision on when passengers can use PEDs on airplanes,” said Huerta.
Implementation of the new rules will vary among airlines due to differences on their fleets and operations, however the FAA expects most carriers will allow passengers to use their devices "gate-to-gate" by the end of the year. Airlines will be required to submit plans to the FAA proving that their Wi-Fi equipped aircraft have the ability to withstand signal interference from PEDs throughout all phases of flight.
According to an emailed statement from American Airlines, the carrier is also working with its regional subsidiaries to bring the same level of PED usage to their aircraft by the end of the year as well.
Row44, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based provider of satellite in-flight Internet connectivity for Southwest Airlines, among others, believes the newly expanded rules are a "tremendous compliment" to their strategy.
"Our approach from the beginning was to have a system that works everywhere at all times - we always felt this would prove to be a strong differentiator," said John Guidon, chief technology for Global Eagle Entertainment, which distributes the Row 44 service. "Overall, the longer window of available usage will increase the benefit of the service to passengers, and gives our partners the opportunity to present a richer entertainment offering, especially for shorter flights, than we have had in the past."