FAA to Review Use of Electronics

I have never been thrown off a plane for refusing to shut off my cellphone or laptop during takeoff or landing. But anyone who has will be happy to know the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to review the use of e-readers and tablets on airplanes.

Of course, there is a catch: The review requires an examination and certification of each version of a device, the New York Times reports. Therefore, all three iPads would have to be certified separately for use on a plane. Each Kindle would have to apply separately. (So far, cellphones and smartphones are not on the list for review.)

This is one of those instances when releasing an upgraded product every six months really hurts the tech industry. Unfortunately, the FAA moves at the speed of all federal organizations (very slowly) on things that don't qualify as air-related disasters. In fact, the last time it reviewed the danger of electronic devices on airplanes was 2006, according to the NYT. By the time your device qualifies, it may already be an antique.

If these devices were OK to use on planes, I could see several potential revenue opportunities for manufacturers and content providers. People planning a long trip might buy their first Kindle, and those airport kiosks that sell phones and tablets could do a booming preflight business. Maybe the airport bookstores and news shops could offer discounted download options or a “book of the month.” (You can already download through an airport WiFi connection, but I have found those differ from airline to airline — sometimes they are free, sometimes not.) A dedicated book download hotspot would be a really good idea.

To further capitalize on this, kiosks could advertise “Airline Approved” devices. Of course, it would make the most sense for Apple to seek approval for the new iPad first, since that device is the most expensive. But I'm not sure an iPad is an impulse buy in an airport. A paperback would be cheaper and doesn't require spousal approval.

Technology associations — such as the {complink 9722|Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)} and the {complink 7444|Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)} — could band together to push for a more generalized product audit. Figure out what does or does not present a danger during takeoff and landing (my guess is it depends on the communications protocols of the devices), and see if that component or subassembly is used in a particular end-product.

However, like everyone else, industry associations have their own issues to worry about, and the needs of the CEA and IEEE may sometimes conflict. The IEEE may come up with a standard that puts some consumer electronics manufacturers at a disadvantage. The first step, of course, is to determine if using these devices really presents a danger. If not, we can move forward on qualifying their use on planes.

19 comments on “FAA to Review Use of Electronics

  1. Nemos
    March 19, 2012

    Your Article Barbara gives me a great opportunity to ask a question that I have in mind when I am on an airplane. “What exactly can cause a mobile phone to the electronics systems of the airplane?

  2. Daniel
    March 20, 2012

    Nemos, theoretically nothing. But again the mode of frequency communicating the onboard cockpit device to master station can be get interfered, while mobile is in connection with nearby tower. Both the mobile communication and flight in board communication are routed through two different levels of frequency and there won’t be any chance for interference each other. But as a part of international saftey issue, for precaution they are not allowing any electronic equipments in flight especially during takeoff and landing.

    March 20, 2012

    Whilst I do not believe a mobile device could interfere severely with a critical aviation system I do know that they will interfere at some level.  Even if the mobile is transmitting at a different frequency the signals will mix to other frequencies that could cause issues.   Since most mobile devices (even cheap Ereaders) have transmit capability the airlines should be very cautious.

  4. Cryptoman
    March 20, 2012

    After reading this article, I couldn't help thinking how the cabin crew will decide which device can stay on or off. In order to make a decision properly, they will need to be up to speed with not only a device from a manufacturer but also with its old and new versions. This is obviously not practical.

    Therefore, I think this change in the regulation will not exactly achieve what is intended but it will simply be a nuisance for the flight crew who already has more important safety checks to perform before the flight. I don't think anybody will have time to check whether a particular release of a device is fit to stay on.

  5. Nemos
    March 20, 2012

    Also I want to add that there is not strict measurement to avoid the interruption from the mobile devices. For instance take a case that the passenger dont turn off his/her device. 

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 20, 2012

    Readers: There is still debate regarding whether mobile devices do cause problems with communications frequencies for airlines. I have read there is no evidence to indicate they do; however, a news show asked that question of Sully Sullivan (the guy who landed the plane on the Hudson River) and he said they absolutely do. My guess is, cell phone companies sponsored the studies that say there are no problems, but I will check those facts. In the meantime, an FAA review is a good idea.

    And I agree–flight attendants do not need any more headaches. I do feel for them!

  7. rohscompliant
    March 20, 2012

    Is it really going to kill us or have a major impact on us if we turn off our electronic devices for a few hours on a flight?…………..seriously! 95% of the communication we send and receieve is useless prattle……..bring a real book with you …….you know the ones that are made of paper?……….I for one will finish reading one of my books this friday morning on my way to florida. leave the important communications to one of ur associates to handle back @ the office…………..chill for a few hours…… will do u a world of good….

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 20, 2012

    Actually, I share your opinion. If you are not stuck on the runway, it takes about 20 minutes each for takeoff and landing (unless you have to change planes several times. Then it adds up.) At any rate, I enjoy the excuse to not be connected all the time on airplanes. I am relieved that the FAA is only looking at e-readers and tablets. Cell phone use on flights would be a nightmare!

  9. Eldredge
    March 21, 2012

    @Cryptoman: Great point. Implementing device-specific acceptance for use on aircraft presents a real control issue. I wouldn't want to be the flight crew that has to police this.

  10. syedzunair
    March 21, 2012

    @Barbara: I couldn't agree more. I find the time on flights to be relaxing and I feel we should sometimes get away from the dependancy on cellphones. It is just for a few hours and one can ponder over other things in life during that time. 

    Above all even if we do not have the facts to prove that cellphones cause problems during takeoff and landings. I prefer to keep them shut off, as I think personal safety is more important than a call or a sms. 


  11. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 21, 2012

    @syed: even if cellphones don't represent a problem, the idea of sharing the tight confines of an airplane with a bunch of cell-phone talkers is enough to put me off travel forever! As soon as the plane lands, everybody's cell flips on and you are treated to everything to “I love you”s to “Cancel the meeting, I'm late!” and everyhting in between. On my last trip, someone was reaming a hotel car service person because the car hadn't shown up yet, but the woman was still in baggage claim. After the tirade, she called everyone she knew to complain about the car service. It's one thing to be in a phone booth (remember those?) and overhear a conversation; it's another thing to be privy to conversations wherever you go. I guess I am really old fashioned, but I just don't think everything needs to be shared.

  12. syedzunair
    March 21, 2012

    @Barbara: It is not about being old fashioned it has more to do with being confined to ourselves instead of hearing other peoples thoughts. I can imagine what you must have gone through during that flight. 

    I think people tend to become over excited when they need to complain about faulty service. However, I feel that one should always consider speaking softly in public places so as to keep the discussion to your own self. 

  13. Mr. Roques
    March 23, 2012

    What will happen with iPad WiFi and iPad 3G? Will flight attendants need to differentiate both and decide which one is allowed?

    The easy path is to prohibit everything.

  14. Eldredge
    March 23, 2012

    That is the dilemma – how is a flight attendant supposed to tell one passenger that his/her device is OK, and the passenger in the next seat has to turn their device off?

  15. Ariella
    March 23, 2012

    Thast would definitely result in some disgruntled passengers. 

  16. Mr. Roques
    June 22, 2012

    What they should do is build devices that work regardless of mobile interference, and then stop worrying about it.

  17. Clairvoyant
    June 22, 2012

    Much easier said than done, Mr. Roques.

  18. Eldredge
    June 25, 2012

    True. Designing devices that are protected from EMI interference is as much art as it is science. Designing an entire flight control system that is fully protected from EMI is even more difficult. To further complicate matters, while lab testing can be pretty extensive, it is very difficult to replicate all of the real-life aspects on the installed system.

  19. Clairvoyant
    June 25, 2012

    Agreed, Eldredge. I'm sure flight systems are already very protected against EMI, but nothing can be fully resistant to EMI. Also, it would be very difficult to test every type of product that emits EMI to see the frequencies and levels that it emits. I don't think there is anything more that can be done on the aircraft side of things.

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