Airline Tablet, E-Reader Bans May Be Reconsidered
March 19, 2012

Airline Tablet, E-Reader Bans May Be Reconsidered

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reportedly considering revamping regulations that currently ban passengers from using electronic devices such as tablet computers and e-readers in the middle of a flight, according to reports published Sunday.

Nick Bilton of the New York Times broke the news, reporting that he has called officials with the agency earlier this month "to pester them about this regulation -- citing experts and research that says these devices could not harm a plane," and was told by FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Laura J. Brown that the group had decided that they would "take a 'fresh look' at the use of personal electronics on planes."

"That´s going to be welcome news to the people in the United States who, according to Forrester Research, by the end of 2012 will have bought more than 40 million e-readers and 60 million iPads and other tablets," Bilton added, adding that tests to see whether or not these gadgets interfere with the electrical systems of the airplanes had not been conducted since 2006 -- "long before iPads and most e-readers existed."

However, Brown's comments to the Times suggest that some devices will still be left out in the cold.

"With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft," she said.

Furthermore, reporter David Murphy notes, Kindle and iPad users shouldn't rejoice just yet.

"While the FAA is interested in retesting modern devices to see just how they might affect aircraft during flight, the process -- as outlined thus far -- is nothing short of laborious," he said.

"If the FAA plans to test devices the same way any airline might (airlines are currently allowed to test various electronic devices on their own and petition the FAA for approval of their use), we might be sporting eighth-generation iPads by the time anyone's allowed to read an e-book during taxiing," added Murphy.

The testing process itself could also take some time, suggests Dante D'Orazio of The Verge, if it is carried out the same way that airlines are tasked with clearing e-readers and tablets at this time.

"Currently, for a device to be approved each and every model needs to be tested on an empty flight -- one at a time," D'Orazio said. "And that's not all: each device needs to be tested on every plane in an airline's fleet, and again for every single airline that wants to allow the use of personal electronic devices, according to a vice president at Virgin America. It's an extremely time- and cost-prohibitive process."

Then there are those who seem to question whether or not the current FAA ban on in-flight electronic device usage even needs to be re-evaluated (and potentially lifted) at all.

"Some might wonder, though, whether this whining is a little much," Chris Matyszczyk of CNET's Blog Network wrote on Sunday. "Essentially, we are talking about not being able to use your precious devices during takeoff and landing. Are human beings truly incapable of doing without these things for this total of, say, one hour? Is it really so troubling to support what's left of the magazine industry for this short period of time?"

"I hope that somehow a balance might be reached where the priority is less whether gadgets can be used when the plane is descending to earth, but more whether the use of those gadgets really gets on someone else's wick," he added.

Such individuals seem to be in the minority, however, as Bilton suggests that the FAA is "bowing to public pressure" by considering possible re-evaluation of the electronic devices that are or aren't allowed to be used mid-flight.

He also reports that NASA had collected 50 electronic device-related incident reports from pilots in 2011, and "few" of them were related to interference with the cockpit's systems. Rather, he says, the majority of the reports were from individuals who either did not turn off devices or had issues with overheating batteries.

Anxiety associated with the use of such gizmos, Bilton says, is a greater problem than the devices themselves.

"It is in everyone´s interest that we move from unscientific fears to real scientific testing," the Times blogger wrote. "By doing these new tests, we could finally squash the unrealistic fears that some people harbor that an e-reader could play havoc with a plane´s avionics, which could distract the flight crew or do worse. Most of these fears seem to be causing more trouble than the electronics themselves."