August 27, 2012, 7:46 PM —
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is taking a new look at the use of portable electronics on airplanes, seeking public comments starting this week and forming a government-industry group to study when smartphones, tablets and other devices can be used safely.
In the U.S., airlines have to determine that interference from portable electronic devices (PEDs) doesn't put flight safety at risk before they authorize passengers to use them. As a result, passengers are asked to power down their laptops, tablets, phones, e-readers, game consoles and other devices during take-off and landing and while the plane is reaching its cruising altitude. The rules are designed to prevent interference with navigation and other systems from the devices themselves, whether communicating with a network or not. The use of cellular networks is banned throughout flights.
The group that the FAA is forming will include representatives from airlines, mobile companies and aviation manufacturers, as well as pilot, flight attendant and passenger groups, the FAA said on Monday. It's scheduled to be formed in the fall of this year and meet for six months. The group will look at the testing methods airlines use to determine safety and consider setting technology standards for in-flight device use, then report back to the FAA.
One thing the study group won't look at is allowing voice calls on cellphones during flight, the FAA said. Airlines once commonly offered pay phones in seatbacks, but since passengers started getting online in the air using Wi-Fi, the carriers have taken a firm line against calls using VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol).
Before the new group meets, the FAA will seek opinions from the public starting on Tuesday, when a Request for Comments is due to be published in the Federal Register. Comments will be accepted for 60 days. The agency is looking for comments on issues including the challenges of expanding electronic device use, possible regulations for certifying aircraft to tolerate device emissions, and electronics industry standards for aircraft-friendly devices.