The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared airlines to allow their passengers to use portable electronic devices (PEDs) in all phases of flight, once they prove that their aircraft can tolerate electromagnetic interference. The process will vary among airlines, but many carriers should be able to demonstrate PEDs tolerance within several months, the agency said.
The FAA's decision, announced on Thursday, is based on the recommendations of a PEDs aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) that convened in January to consider whether airlines could safely allow wider passenger use of electronic devices during flight. Most airlines now limit PEDs use to when an aircraft ascends above 10,000 feet.
Reporting back to the agency on September 30, the ARC concluded that most commercial aircraft can tolerate radio signal interference from PEDs; that the FAA should provide airlines with new procedures to assess PEDs tolerance; and once they have verified tolerance, clear them to allow passengers to use devices such as tablet computers, e-readers and smartphones at all altitudes. The committee did not consider the use of cellphones for voice communications and text messaging in flight, which remain prohibited.
In its decision, the FAA stipulates that airlines should continue to require passengers to use their PEDs in “airplane mode,” with cellular transmitters turned off, from the time the aircraft takes off until it lands. Also, in cases of severe weather with low visibility, the crew should instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing.
The agency said that it is providing airlines with updated, “clear” guidance to prove their aircraft are PEDs tolerant. “This FAA tool will help airlines assess the risks of potential PED-induced avionics problems for their airplanes and specific operations,” it stated. “Airlines will evaluate avionics as well as changes to stowage rules and passenger announcements. Each airline will also need to revise manuals, checklists for crewmember training materials, carry-on baggage programs and passenger briefings before expanding use of PEDs.”
In a statement responding to the FAA’s decision, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) called for the “safe, managed expansion” of PEDs usage. “AFA is a strong advocate for streamlining the testing and validation processes needed to demonstrate this capability, and requiring that airlines and manufacturers complete this work as quickly as possible on all passenger airplanes,” the association said. “At the same time, appropriate policies and procedures, supported by effective crew training programs and focused safety messaging from the industry to travelers, are needed to ensure that expanded use by passengers does not degrade safety and security.”
Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization representing major U.S. airlines, applauded the FAA’s decision and said its members “will work with the FAA to ensure expanded customer use of electronic devices is implemented safely and expeditiously.”