National nightmare, over: FAA preparing to relax rules about electronics on airplanes

posted at 8:41 pm on September 23, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

I kid, of course; the entirely #FirstWorldProblem of having to turn off my iPod during takeoff and landing hardly qualifies as even a lite life scourge. If, however, you’ve ever flown and wondered about the very apparent pointlessness of the flight attendant tapping you on the shoulder and insisting that you must completely power down your non-radio/cell signal-emitting electronic device — particularly when it is clearly not important enough that they should actually try to enforce the often ignored and/or accidentally violated rule with any kind of surety — wonder no longer.

Even over-the-top cautiousness is probably appropriate when it comes to aviation safety, but the federal government has been particularly slow to address the evident obsoleteness of the Zero Electronics Below 10,000 Feet rule and they’re only just making moves at altering the rule amidst the growing chorus of complaints in an increasingly digital age. Via the NYT:

This week, an F.A.A. advisory panel will meet to complete its recommendations to relax most of the restrictions. The guidelines are expected to allow reading e-books or other publications, listening to podcasts, and watching videos, according to several of the panel’s members who requested anonymity because they could not comment on the recommendations. …

Last year, the F.A.A. created the advisory panel of industry experts to update the rule. It was supposed to report back in July but requested an extension until the end of September to sort out some technical materials, an indication of just how complicated the deliberation has been. …

The panel wants to be able to present a single policy from “gate to gate” that would apply to all airlines, and all types of airplanes, according to several of its members who requested anonymity because the discussions were private. Instead of testing devices, the F.A.A. will ask that the airlines certify that their planes can tolerate interferences — something they have done when installing Wi-Fi on board, for instance. Once that is done, the airlines can allow electronic devices, perhaps by next year. …

Today’s most popular devices, aviation experts said, use so little power that they are unable to interfere with a plane’s aeronautics.

The prohibitions on Wi-Fi during takeoff and landing and on making any cell phone calls whatsoever will definitely stay in place — mobile voice communications are prohibited by the FCC because they can interfere with transmissions between cell towers on the ground — but otherwise, it sounds like the feds are slowly but surely moving toward modernization on this one.


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So I can finally read my Kindle during takeoff without the fear of being tossed into federal prison because of it?

Bishop on September 23, 2013 at 8:49 PM

Keeping passengers off the phone is an attention issue. FAA communications are far from phone frequencies. Ship communications bracket plane frequencies and put out far more power.

CW20 on September 23, 2013 at 9:01 PM

So I can finally read my Kindle during takeoff without the fear of being tossed into federal prison because of it?

Bishop on September 23, 2013 at 8:49 PM

If you were reading…
Dreams of my Father..

you were givin’ a break…

Electrongod on September 23, 2013 at 9:08 PM

Yay… first world problems indeed… but I live in the first world thank Heavens!

And for a certain 14 year old who has flown a lot lately, it was a news story she noticed and told me about.

Yay.

petunia on September 23, 2013 at 9:12 PM

Yeah, but, what about my cordless electric chain saw?

Pork-Chop on September 23, 2013 at 9:19 PM

You actually turn off your iPod, Erika?

Jeddite on September 23, 2013 at 9:21 PM

I was a shipboard EMPRESS Tech and went through getting zapped at Solomon Islands MD.

It’s a joke, and they know it. Ain’t no cell device thats going to give off enough RF to do squat.

The frigging radars are 1/4 million watts. Mine was 280k watts. What are cell devices?

Milliwatts?

The crap I worked on, it was a running joke we were all balding and wore glasses.

Tested for leaks with an RF meter with 4 1/2 inches of coat hanger stuck in the probe.curved like a fish hook. Found some that way, too.

wolly4321 on September 23, 2013 at 9:21 PM

The prohibitions on Wi-Fi during takeoff and landing and on making any cell phone calls whatsoever will definitely stay in place — mobile voice communications are prohibited by the FCC because they can interfere with transmissions between cell towers on the ground — but otherwise, it sounds like the feds are slowly but surely moving toward modernization on this one.

The whole point of these prohibitions has and always will be control over the passengers, not safety. Since the first cell phones back in the 80s, those Motorolas as big as a shoe and weighing in at two liters, which I owned, used, and flew with, there’s been no documented crash or flight anomaly as a result.

Since then, and flying with and using every cell phone iteration thereafter on a few thousand flights on private jets, having arguably less protection than the commercial liners, there has never been even an issue. We’ve even had pilots who’ve thought the ban was such a joke that they would announce after wheels up, “In the interest of safety, please keep your cell phones on but take them off vibrate. We don’t want to give your flight hostess(es) the wrong idea.”

TXUS on September 23, 2013 at 9:25 PM

If I recall the conversation with my pilot brother-in-law correctly, if the stewardesses don’t strictly enforce the silly rule, they personally (not the airline) will be fined thousands of dollars per incident by the FAA, with undercover enforcement personnel on some flights. Pretty much everyone agrees that the current regulations are absurd – some airlines are moving the flight manuals to electronic form, and the pilots damn sure aren’t turning those iPads off during takeoff and landing – but unless the stewardess just hit Powerball and is feeling generous, all devices are going to have to be turned off right up until the very minute a change takes effect.

bittergeek on September 23, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Wouldn’t sensitive avionics wires run though shielded conduit?

It don’t have to be lead.

wolly4321 on September 23, 2013 at 9:28 PM

I can’t seem to recall a single time a bird dropped out of the sky for this reason.

Anyone,, Bueller?

wolly4321 on September 23, 2013 at 9:33 PM

Does anyone actually follow those rules? I keep my cell on. I listen to my Bluetooth headset and as soon as I am in cell range, I auto-text my wife that we are landing (easilydo).

paulsur on September 23, 2013 at 9:46 PM

I can’t seem to recall a single time a bird dropped out of the sky for this reason.

Anyone,, Bueller?

wolly4321 on September 23, 2013 at 9:33 PM

There has never been a single documented case of cell phone usage causing a crash or a flight problem or even comms interference. Not one. Nor could a cell phone signal or actual usage possibly interfere.

Plus, without them, we would’ve never found out what happened on Flight 93, would we? That rule has been and is complete BS.

TXUS on September 23, 2013 at 9:50 PM

50.000 volts DC and boom goes the Magnetron, watching you take off. The IFF is pinging. RF fills the air.Comms. Nav.

wolly4321 on September 23, 2013 at 9:53 PM

How odd that this should happen today. I have just received my bluetooth keyboard for Kindle and other android devices.

And now I can use them on a plane!

…hmm… much less climactic then I thought it would be.

Although the keyboard is way cool!

…now where’s that rum?

a5minmajor on September 23, 2013 at 10:02 PM

It’s great about the loosening the restrictions on electronic devices etc. I hope they do not lift the cell phone restrictions. It’s bad enough that you cannot go anywhere dinners, theater, the grocery store, a football game nowadays without listening to some jerk tell his BFF how he had to lance a boil on his cat’s butt.

I just can’t imagine being trapped in my seat and having to listen to hours of a seat mate’s phone chatter. THAT could cause flight problems when I attempt to take the phone away and put it in a place where phones aren’t supposed to go.

Jomama on September 23, 2013 at 10:07 PM

If you were reading…
Dreams of my Father..

you were givin’ a break…

Electrongod on September 23, 2013 at 9:08 PM

…LOL!

KOOLAID2 on September 23, 2013 at 10:18 PM

It’s great about the loosening the restrictions on electronic devices etc. I hope they do not lift the cell phone restrictions. It’s bad enough that you cannot go anywhere dinners, theater, the grocery store, a football game nowadays without listening to some jerk tell his BFF how he had to lance a boil on his cat’s butt.

I just can’t imagine being trapped in my seat and having to listen to hours of a seat mate’s phone chatter. THAT could cause flight problems when I attempt to take the phone away and put it in a place where phones aren’t supposed to go.

Jomama on September 23, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Hear you there, but the government has no business in making that judgment, particularly when there’s no flight safety rationale for the use of cell phones. That said, I would really like your solution to the cell phone gabber if first you wrapped his phone in sand paper and then inserted in an appropriate location.

TXUS on September 23, 2013 at 10:38 PM

I once had an old style superhetrodyne AM radio I built from a Heath kit. The hetrodyne signal it generated would interfere with all sorts of electronics in a 10 foot circle, even cell phones. Probably the source of the original FAA rule.

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on September 23, 2013 at 10:41 PM

but the government has no business in making that judgment, particularly when there’s no flight safety rationale for the use of cell phones
TXUS on September 23, 2013 at 10:38 PM

I totally agree with that. I’m just hoping that it just delays the inevitable.

Flying is bad enough now. Airplanes are nothing but Greyhound buses with wings.

Jomama on September 23, 2013 at 10:50 PM

I mentioned this to my spouse – thinking he’d be happy to hear it (he travels a lot)

He wasn’t. He was imagining sitting next to people who talked loudly on their phones from take-off to landing. Yikes!

LilyBart on September 23, 2013 at 11:36 PM

He was imagining sitting next to people who talked loudly on their phones from take-off to landing. Yikes!

LilyBart on September 23, 2013 at 11:36 PM

Yup, the day the airlines allow cell calls is the day they can kiss my curvy yellow butt goodbye.

I will drive everywhere, business and pleasure.

Flying will become more like riding a school bus and won’t even approach Greyhound.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on September 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM

I heard this same type of round of applause when the airlines announced that they would allow pocket knives again. Turns out that they actually voted against allowing even pocket knives on board.

I just found that out the hard way last weekend. Thus, I’m not holding my breath about this one.

ss396 on September 24, 2013 at 1:38 AM

Cool. Let’s get rid of the TSA while we’re at it.

John the Libertarian on September 24, 2013 at 2:39 AM

It’s great about the loosening the restrictions on electronic devices etc. I hope they do not lift the cell phone restrictions. It’s bad enough that you cannot go anywhere dinners, theater, the grocery store, a football game nowadays without listening to some jerk tell his BFF how he had to lance a boil on his cat’s butt.

I just can’t imagine being trapped in my seat and having to listen to hours of a seat mate’s phone chatter. THAT could cause flight problems when I attempt to take the phone away and put it in a place where phones aren’t supposed to go.

Jomama on September 23, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Hear you there, but the government has no business in making that judgment, particularly when there’s no flight safety rationale for the use of cell phones. That said, I would really like your solution to the cell phone gabber if first you wrapped his phone in sand paper and then inserted in an appropriate location.

TXUS on September 23, 2013 at 10:38 PM

Agreed, but if someone starts a cellphone-free airline they’ll get my business. I commute via bus every day and inconsiderate people yabbering away on their phones drive me insane.

To have to put up with that on a multi-hour flight would probably drive me to GTA V -type actions.

Mr. Bingley on September 24, 2013 at 6:17 AM

An important point that many people overlook:
–It is not true that a non-radio device doesn’t produce electromagnetic fields.

Yes, low power means lesser e-mag fields. But, it is possible that even a low power device can be broken in such a way as to produce unacceptable interference. (Take a look at the FCC notice in the manual for almost anything that runs on electricity.) The rule has always been that, since you can’t know for certain if something is causing interference, you eliminate the category as a source of problems. It isn’t a bad concept.

Aviation is so dang safe nowadays that everyone takes it for granted. But many folks don’t stop to consider that if anything happens up there, it’s not like a bus or a cruise ship, where you can just pull over or throw out an anchor – you *are* coming down.

All that said, I’m glad they’re re-looking at it. I just hope the committee doing so isn’t packed solely with folks concerned about making the customers happy because they can now play angry birds while the stewardess is showing them how to put on their life vest.

GWB on September 24, 2013 at 9:32 AM

250 cell phones will NOT interfere with an airplanes communications systems.

NEXT.

TX-96 on September 24, 2013 at 4:32 PM