FAA May Relax In-Flight Electronics Rules

There’s a chance that the next time you take a flight in America, you won’t have to turn off your laptop for that half-hour gap between takeoff and cruising altitude, as the Federal Aviation Administration is considering easing the rules for in-flight electronic use by the end of the year.

An FAA advisory panel will meet tomorrow and Wednesday to reassess when electronics can and can’t be used on board, and the final ruling, whatever it may be, will go into effect next year. Cell phone use will remain forbidden, (as that’s prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission), but it’s widely expected that the new guidelines may permit travelers to read ebooks, listen to music, and watch videos on iPads during takeoff and landing.

The current FAA regulations were created before smartphones and iPads existed. In the 1950s, regulators deemed that emissions from FM radios could potentially interfere with the plane’s navigational equipment, but FM radios have become something of a quaint rarity, and there’s little evidence that the current crop of personal electronics affect flight safety. Also, as USA Today points out, “[t]ravelers have become impatient to use their own gadgets.”

Technically, the FAA doesn’t ban the use of electronics during takeoff and landing; they just require airlines to certify that the devices don’t interfere with flight safety. However, this would require that airlines test every model of phone and table and MP3 player, and because that would be a huge pain, they’ve responded with a blanket ban on electronics during takeoff and landing.