FAA clears passengers to use electronics on take-off and landing

Washington DC
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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will allow airline passengers to use portable electronic devices (PEDs) throughout all phases of flight in airplane mode and expects many US carriers to be able to implement the new rules by the end of the year.

The decision follows recommendations from an aviation rulemaking committee of aviation and communications experts submitted on 30 September, including representatives from JetBlue and Delta.

“The committee determined that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices,” says FAA administrator Michael Huerta during a press conference at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport.

“It's safe to read downloaded materials like ebooks, calendars and also to play games,” he says.

The exception is about 1% of flights that have may not tolerate this interference, in which case passengers would be instructed not to use the devices during take-off and landing in some instances of low visibility. This exception is prompted by “certain combinations of weather, avionics and aircraft,” said Huerta.

The FAA today has provided guidance to airlines about how to implement the new rules, which each airline will be responsible for implementing as part of its own electronic device policy.

Operators will need to make several changes to their device policies, including updating their manuals, crew checklists and safety information for passengers.

“These changes won't take effect immediately, but we will be working with the airlines to get it done as quickly as we can and to maximize consistency across the industry,” says Huerta.

To implement the new rules, the FAA has provided new guidance to identify the risks of possible problems with interference to replace the current advisory circular that recommends turning off and stowing these PEDs until the aircraft is above an altitude of 10,000ft.

The recommendations do not permit the use of making voice calls with smartphones' cellular networks, which is prohibited by Federal Communications Commission regulations.

The FAA first announced it would form the rulemaking committee in August 2012 to make recommendations about expanding the use of PEDs throughout all phases of flight. The committee was officially established in January and includes representatives from the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the US Transportation Security Administration, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Federal Communications Commission, airlines like JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines and avionics suppliers.