FAA: You are now free to browse about the country

FAA: You are now free to browse about the country

Summary: The FAA has finally said you will be able to use your mobile devices during take-offs and landings.

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It's been slow coming but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally lifted the unpopular ban on using electronic devices during airplane take-offs and landings.

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FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced on October 31st that "airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance."

Don't flip on your Nexus 7 or iPad  the second you next settle into your airline seat. It's not quite legal yet. 

The FAA explained that, "Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year."

Even then there will be some restrictions. The main one is that you still can't use cell phones to make calls during flights. Voice communications fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), not the FAA. As someone who'd just as soon not listen to someone else's conversation, they can keep that restriction forever as far as I'm concerned.

The upshot of this is that you can only use your smartphone in airplane mode or with its cellular connection disabled. You may use your device's Wi-Fi connection if the plane has Wi-Fi and the airline allows its use. You can also use short-range Bluetooth accessories such as wireless keyboards and headsets.

These new rules are meant for airlines in the US. They will apply to both domestic and international flights. Foreign airlines follow their own country's civil aviation rules. Since the FAA shares information and works with the international civil aviation authorities to harmonize requirements as much as possible, it seems likely these airlines will follow suit.

During the actual takeoff and landing roll, you will not be able to use your devices, but that appears to be the only other hard and fast restriction. I'm looking forward to being able to listen my music and read my e-book from gate to gate.

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Topics: Mobility, Networking, Smartphones, Tablets

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6 comments
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  • rephrase, plz?

    "The upshot of this is that you can only use your smartphone in airplane mode or with its cellular connection disabled. You may use your device's Wi-Fi connection if the plane has Wi-Fi and the airline allows its use. You can also use short-range Bluetooth accessories such as wireless keyboards and headsets."

    Eh, I'm trying to unmangle the meaning - can you rephrase what can and can't be done?
    CobraA1
    • Easy

      You can't use cellular connections with your phone, because that falls und the FCC not the FAA, but you can use the WiFi or WLAN connection to attach to the planes internal wifi hotspot (if they have one) to surf the 'Net.

      You can also use your Bluetooth devices to control the device during the flight.
      wright_is
    • Realistically

      Use your smartphone however you want to. No one will really check to make sure it's on airplane mode. Once you hit a certain altitude it'll be worthless, but before and after that you're good to go.

      As far as other electronics, it'll be free range. How wouldn't they even know what radios you have on. I use my smartphone and laptop up to the altitude I lose service all the time.

      All in all you can use wifi devices but not cell phone or smart phone devices during take-off. Anything else seems to be fair game. Although the FAA seems to be assuming you'll actually put your device into airplane mode.
      Sam Wagner
  • This is simply ridiculous...

    That the restriction was ever there shows that little minds were in power in Washington, and that we should all be afraid when Washington idiots, who understand electronics even less than economics, try to regulate things electronic. One look at the performance of the FCC over the past 30 years proves that dolts have been allowed to run things far too long.

    If there ever were the possibility of interference, the frequencies should have been changed - IT REALLY IS THAT SIMPLE.
    chrome_slinky@...
    • No, the situation is fine, the comment is rediculous

      >> IT REALLY IS THAT SIMPLE

      Only to a clueless idiot.
      Your argument seems to be that because it's OK now, it must always have been OK. WRONG. Aircraft avionics standards have improved considerably since the issues were first raised - I have first hand, personal experience of interference in old avionics from portable devices.
      As for "just change the frequencies". Well that just proves a 100% lack of understanding. Changing the frequencies would do absolutely nothing to fix the problem. The signals talked about here are already not in bands actively used by the avionics - they are well away. But, because some avionics weren't designed to cope with random transmitters close up, there can be all sorts of issues due to out of band signals being picked up. Classic example - hold a GSM mobile nect to some audio gear and listen. The interference in the audio (ie below around 20kHz is from a radio transmitter running at 800MHz or higher (depending on the band). And in any case, the bands are laid down by international agreements.
      SimonHobson
  • chasing ghosts

    The other problem is one of invesitigation/debug. With the high importance on airline safety, any problem requires a very detailed investigation to figure out what the problem is. Until it was proven for sure (or the equipment hardened against stray interference) that electronics would not be a cause, it was best to keep those 300+ passenger device variables out of the equation.

    Air travel is not just about the passengers that want to use their phones the whole time - it is getting a group of travelers from one place to another and safely.

    I've had to chase ghosts many times, and sometimes for months or longer - waiting for that specific situation to occur again. It isn't fun. Imagine being in the cockpit and seeing a warning light go on then off, and nobody can recreate it. All because one device somehow triggers it. Try figuring out how to recreate that and debug it. Impossible.

    Airlines need to control all the variables until those variables are proven to not cause problems.
    suplero