FAA advisory panel clears Wi-Fi for takeoff

Ready your engines (and mobile devices) as an FAA advisory panel has given Wi-Fi the all clear below 10,000 feet.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

To the delight of many travelers (and inevitably to the chagrin of others), the Federal Aviation Administration is one step closer to clearing the use of Wi-Fi and mobile devices for takeoff thanks to a new recommendation.

After years of requests from passengers combined with numerous studies that have argued Wi-Fi does not hamper navigational instruments on planes, the FAA relented this summer to conduct a study about the safety and usage of electronics while in flight below 10,000 feet.

That specifically addresses the windows of flight time at takeoff and landing when flight attendants mandate that passengers turn off and stow all electronics -- regardless of purpose or form factor.

This can be quite an annoyance to some travelers (and even bewildering). Many critics have argued that at least allowing simpler devices such as e-readers should be considered acceptable.

By late September, multiple news reports pointed toward winds of change in the FAA's rhetoric on the matter.

An advisory panel set up by the FAA was reportedly making moves to recommend relaxing most restrictions concerning Wi-Fi and mobile device usage during takeoff and landing.

Based on a new report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, it looks like the advisory panel is truly giving the green light to Wi-Fi usage during these periods.

Here's a nugget about the committee's recommendation that should ease nervous travelers (and naysayers):

The panel determined that no matter what applications the devices are running or what wireless-transmission mode they are in, "the vast majority" of aircraft "are going to be just fine" from a safety standpoint, according to a senior Amazon.com Inc. official who headed the group's technical subcommittee.

Nearly all airline fleets "already have been so dramatically improved and aircraft are so resilient" to electronic interference, according to Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy, that the committee concluded they would be safe for "gate to gate use" of such devices.

The catch is that travelers will be required to sign up (translation: pay for) Wi-Fi access from the airline rather than using their own cellular service.

But at least the option will be available, possibly as soon as by the end of the year.

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