US regulators are putting together a government-industry working group to study the effects of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight.
The group will investigate current policies and testing procedures for such devices and give the US Federal Aviation Administration recommendations for future in-flight use as the equipment and aircraft systems evolve.
"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," says acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta. "We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."
Under current FAA regulations, operators may allow passengers to use personal devices if they can show that there is no safety risk from radio-frequency interference.
The risk of interference has, for years, been a contentious issue. Multiple submissions to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System cite incidents in which avionics and radio interference has been suspected, but conclusive evidence has proven elusive.
The FAA recommends that operators require passengers to stow electronic devices during take-off and landing and only use them during non-critical portions of the flight. Commercial airlines generally have policies that prohibit use below a specified altitude.
Under the new FAA plan, the working group, which will be established during the fourth quarter of this year, will meet for six months. The group will comprise individuals representing passengers, pilots and flight attendants, as well as those from the manufacturing and mobile communications sectors.
But the FAA insists the group "will not consider" the airborne use of mobile telephones for voice communications during flight.
In preparation for the setting-up of the working group, the FAA is inviting public comments for 60 days, from 28 August, about its policies and regulations regarding personal electronic devices. It is seeking feedback on various criteria, including current restrictions, and requesting input on creating electronics standards for aircraft compatibility and the need to design new aircraft with electronic device usage in mind.