FAA forms group to examine in-flight electronics usage

Earlier this year, we learned that the Federal Aviation Administration was taking a fresh look at whether passengers should be able to use electronics devices during take-off and landing. Now, the FAA has announced formal plans to examine the various issues involved. Representatives from the aviation and mobile technology industries will come together with folks from the airlines and passenger groups to make recommendations for future standards governing the in-flight user of personal electronics.

According to the FAA press release, these reps will meet for six months starting this fall. The FAA is quite specific about the fact that voice communication for cellphone users isn't on the table. However, there's no mention of restrictions on data communication or wireless networking, which will presumably be considered. Some airlines already offer Wi-Fi Internet access, after all.

As part of the process, the FAA is seeking comments on a number of aspects of PED usage—that's Personal Electronics Devices, not the dope athletes use to artificially enhance their performance. In addition to obvious factors, like the need for standards to govern aircraft-friendly operating modes, there's also the matter of distraction. The FAA probably doesn't want people playing games on their smartphones during that all-important safety briefing at the beginning of each flight. Not that the airline attendants have the full attention of passengers right now. The start of the safety briefing is usually my cue to flip through the SkyMall catalog, if I'm even still awake at that point.

Given how long it's taken the FAA to form a group to tackle electronics usage, it could be a while before restrictions are loosened. Recommendations won't be made until the spring, and government agencies tend to move at a glacial pace.

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