FAA taking fresh look at tablets, e-readers on planes


by KING 5 News


Posted on March 19, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 19 at 7:01 PM

SEATTLE - The FAA may be taking a new look at allowing some electronic devices to be used on planes. But don’t expect it to happen anytime soon and don’t expect your smartphone to be one of the permitted devices.

According to a New York Times business technology blog, an FAA spokesperson said the agency plans to take a “fresh look” at the problem of interference with airplane operation – a problem some passengers believe doesn’t exist.

The last time the FAA did significant testing on electronic devices was 2006, before iPads and e-readers.

The testing process could be long. The New York Times reports each airline would have to offer up each version of a plane in its fleet to test each version of an electronic device.

For example, Alaska Airlines would have to offer up a 737-400, with no passengers on board, to test an iPad, an iPad 2 and the new iPad. Each test would need to be done on a separate flight. Then, they’d have to do it all over again for every version of an Amazon.com Kindle Fire and so on. Then they'd have to do it all over again on the 737-700, 737-800 and so on.

Due to this, it’s not expected that testing will be done on smartphones since there are several hundred on the market with new ones coming out every month.

With millions of iPads, Kindles and laptops going through the nation's airports these days, when is it OK to turn them on in flight? Generally, when the airline says so, and the airline rules are not always consistent largely because the FAA puts much of the burden on the airlines to determine which devices will interfere with cockpit electronics and which ones won’t.

This has been an issue for decades.  In the 1990s, airlines worried that some of the early game consoles and laptops could interact with airplane navigation systems. Then it was smart phones and "airplane mode," which turned off the transmitting phone part but allowed WiFi and other smart phone functions to work in the air.  But now the number of potential devices is growing again.

The FAA released this statement Monday:

“As with any regulation, safety is always our top priority, and no changes will be made until we are certain they will not impact safety and security.  For some time, the FAA’s rules have permitted an airline to allow passenger use of PEDs if the airline demonstrates the devices will not interfere with aircraft avionics.  The FAA is exploring ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved, but, ultimately, testing is the responsibility of each airline.  We recognize that this is an area of consumer interest, and our goal is to bring together these key stakeholders to help facilitate a discussion as we have in the past."

The blog also pokes some holes in the FAA's claims of how electronics affect avionics. Read more at The New York Times.

KING 5's Glenn Farley contributed to this report.