PED rulemaking committee awaits FAA response on portable electronic devices

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A rulemaking committee focusing on providing guidance for the expanded use of portable electronic devices in flight is awaiting a response from the Federal Aviation Administration after submitting a final report on 30 September.

The report from the group, known as the Portable Electronic Devices Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PED ARC), is understood to include recommendations for expanding use of the devices during more phases of flight, including take-off and landing.

“If the FAA accepts what the ARC is recommending, [it will mean] that you will be able to use your PEDs gate-to-gate, any time as a passenger,” says Jamie Lutkus, certification manager at Armstrong Aerospace while speaking on a panel at the Seating and IFE Integration Symposium in Seattle on 1 October. The Illinois-based firm specialises in testing aerospace components and has worked with several members of rulemaking committee on various projects.

The FAA has been expected to comment on the committee’s recommendations this week, but the timeline is now unclear in light of the US government shutdown due to an impasse in Congress to pass a new federal budget.

“Our report just went to the FAA yesterday, and now, of course you know they’re furloughed today. So we don’t know what’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen,” says Rich Salter, chief technical officer of inflight entertainment provider Lumexis and a member of the rulemaking committee, during the interiors panel.

Most members of the panel have declined to disclose the specific recommendations until the FAA gives a public statement, however the Consumer Electronics Association – a member of the ARC — issued a public statement urging the FAA to accept recommendations that would allow passengers to use electronic devices like e-readers and tablets at any altitude “with limited exceptions” if the aircraft have been shown to be “resilient” to radio interference.

Now that the recommendations have been submitted, it is up to the FAA to determine how to use them in updated guidance for airline policies, says Doug Johnson, vice-president of technology policy at CEA and representative for the company on the ARC.

“We now urge the FAA’s immediate review, consideration and pursuit of the advisory committee’s recommendations,” says Johnson in a statement. “We understand the ARC’s recommendations are solely for the FAA’s consideration, and until the FAA issues additional guidance implemented by airlines, current practices remain unchanged.”

While airlines are technically responsible for implementing and enforcing their own policies for using PEDs in a way that does not interfere with aircraft systems, an FAA advisory circular that limits use of PEDs until the aircraft reaches 10,000ft (3,048m) has become a widespread policy among the operators. Additionally, airlines are required to comply with a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that disallows passengers from activating their mobile phones’ 800Mhz frequency in flight.

The FAA first announced it would form the ARC 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 suppliers like Rockwell Collins and Thales.

The group was originally scheduled to complete talks by the end of July, but members requested more time to further address some topics, including creating guidance materials for airlines to perform a safety risk assessment against critical flight systems, as well as drafting materials to help operators create policies for stowing PEDs if the regulations are relaxed and allow PED use throughout flight.