Anyone who’s ever flown is familiar with the “please turn off all electronic devices” speech that flight attendants give after closing the airplane door and again shortly before landing. The ban on electronic devices of all kinds exists out of fear that devices might interfere with the planes navigation and other systems, even if the device doesn’t include any sort of radio antenna.
The ban on electronic devices has come under fire recently as the F.A.A. has been certifying the use of iPads in the cockpit during all phases of flight (including takeoff and landing) by various commercial airlines as a replacement for hefty “flight bags” of paper manuals and charts.
In a move that will music to the ears of Words With Friends addict Alec Baldwin, the agency is looking at allowing the use of electronic devices by passengers during takeoff and landing
The last time the F.A.A. considered the matter was in 2006 – a time before most of today’s devices like iPads and Kindles simply didn’t exist. According to the New York Times, the agency fully aware that it’s time to take a “fresh look” at the issue.
One of the challenges to getting devices certified and allowed during all phases is of flight is that current F.A.A. rules require each airline to request device permission “once the airline demonstrated the devices would not interfere with aircraft avionics.” That’s a time consuming and expensive proposition that doesn’t translate directly into revenue for an airline. Since the airlines don’t have an incentive to go through all the needed steps, the federal agency is looking at the option of taking on the burden of testing itself, though how long it will take to make any changes is an open question.
Another potential problem is that demonstrating devices don’t impact a plane’s systems needs to be done separately for each type of device – and that means each model of a device. Approving the iPad means testing the original iPad, the iPad 2, and the newest iPad – and each generation of iPad will likely need to be tested twice to cover both Wi-Fi and 3G/4G models. Under the current rules, and not likely to change, each device model needs to be tested on a separate flight and with each type of aircraft in an airline’s fleet.
Even if the F.A.A. takes that on for the carriers, that’s a lot of flights, and it faces the problem of new devices not being certified as they come to market. Although the agency is looking to engage device makers, the sheer volume of new devices that come out in a given year (or even in a given quarter) can be massive.
So, while this is good news, it looks like we’re still going to be turning off devices at the beginning and end of commercial flights for the foreseeable future. That said, it is nice to see that the F.A.A. is actually taking a look at this issues.
It’s also worth noting that the agency also has no plans to include smartphones in any policy or rule changes, most likely because of the longer range antennas and/or the sheer volume of devices that would need to be tested.