More device use on U.S. flights to be allowed by end of year

Airline passengers will be allowed more onboard use of devices such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle as soon as the end of the year, though restrictions will remain, the chief U.S. aviation regulator said. More

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More device use on U.S. flights to be allowed by end of year

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/MATT NAGER
THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION said today that airline passengers will be allowed more onboard use of electronic devices as soon as the end of this year, although restrictions on mobile-phone calls and text messages during flight will remain in place.
Posted 10/31/13

WASHINGTON – Airline passengers will be allowed more onboard use of devices such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle as soon as the end of the year, though restrictions will remain, the chief U.S. aviation regulator said.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said the agency will initially allow devices in “airplane mode,” which limits their radio signals, to be used throughout flights, though heavier devices will have to be stowed during takeoff and landing.

“We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumer’s increasing desire to use their electronic devices,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Allowing broader use of on-board electronics would help Amazon.com, as Kindle owners may have more time to buy and download content; Gogo Inc., which says it has 82 percent of the inflight Wi-Fi service market in North America; and Qualcomm Inc., which won preliminary regulatory clearance in May for an air-to-ground broadband service.

Airlines will have to conduct tests showing aircraft radios and navigation equipment are shielded from potential interference from devices, Huerta said.

‘Stay connected’

The FAA now prohibits use of personal electronic devices while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of portable recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electric shavers. The restrictions are intended to prevent interference with flight controls, radios and navigation equipment.

Mobile-phone calls and text messages will remain forbidden at any time during flight. They are separately banned over concerns that the signals may interfere with ground networks.

The recommendations announced today were based on a report by an FAA advisory panel that made its recommendations to the agency in September.

The bar for getting permission to expand electronics use will be higher if an airline wanted its passengers to be able to surf the Internet while pilots landed in zero visibility, which requires them to follow radio beams instead of seeing the runway.

Devices allowed on one fleet of aircraft may be prohibited on another, under the new policy.

Lawmakers, including Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, have said the FAA was moving too slowly to expand usage and threatened to force changes through legislation.

“This is great news for the traveling public -- and frankly, a win for common sense,” McCaskill said in an emailed statement today.

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