FAA May Allow Your Electronics On the Plane

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering loosening the rules to allow electronics to stay active during takeoffs and landings.  Currently, as every traveler knows, when the airplane is taking off or coming in for a landing, passengers are required to shut down their electronics – phones, laptops, tablets, even e-readers – to ensure that nothing interferes with the plane’s controls.

This may change and the pilot may tells you to “turn your devices to airplane mode” rather than shut them off.  For those of us who travel and like to read our books in electronic form or watch stored videos or listen to music on our iPod, this is a boon.  Even those of us who pull our emails onto our notebook before boarding so we can read and respond in-flight for later transmission will see this as a bonus.

The FAA expects to make a decision sometime this year after a study of the use of portable electronics on planes wraps up.  The change, the FAA says, if it is enacted, would affect all electronics except cell phones, which will still have to be shut down.  Cellular communications are different than others and could interfere with in-flight communications between pilots and control towers or other planes.

Studies have shown that the emissions from most electronic devices that do not have active WiFi or cellular transmissions are far smaller than expected.  In fact, some devices currently allowed, such as electronic recorders, actually give off more emissions than do e-readers and iPods.

The industry working group commissioned by the FAA last year to study the issue has come to conclusions – not yet announced – and the FAA will be acting on those.  Most likely, the conclusion is that these devices pose no threat when in “airplane mode” and little threat when operating normally, so they should be cleared for use.  The decision would likely take effect after the first of the year (January 2014).

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