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FAA report on electronic device use in the air delayed 2 months

June 27, 2013|By Terry Gardner
  • Personal electronic devices, or PEDs, are the source of much angst for fliers. A new FAA report, which was due next month, is now delayed.
Personal electronic devices, or PEDs, are the source of much angst for fliers.… (Terry Gardner )

If you’re eagerly awaiting the report on using electronic devices in flight, you’ll need to wait a bit longer: The report, expected next month, now will not land until September.

The Federal Aviation Administration report, assembled by representatives from government agencies, airline manufacturers, airlines and safety organizations, studies whether those devices pose a risk.

The two-month extension is needed “to complete the additional work necessary for the safety assessment,”  Kristie Greco, an FAA spokesperson, said in an email.  “We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps."

"The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft, that is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions."

On U.S. flights, such devices must be turned off during takeoffs and landings. (Flight attendants usually explain that’s it’s anything with an on-off switch.) In flight, they must be kept in “airplane mode” unless the passenger purchases Wi-Fi in flight, if it’s available.

Among other issues, the group is studying whether those personal electronic devices, or PEDs, can interfere with electronics on a plane.

Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile for PC Magazine, doesn’t think it’s likely, noting that American Airlines is using iPads in the cockpit during all phases of flight including takeoff and landing. Segan, who has tested hundreds of tablets and cellphones, says devices with no voice  or data networking, such as an iPod without Wi-Fi capability or a cellphone or tablet in airplane mode, pose little risk. Similarly, devices using  Wi-Fi or Bluetooth don't appear to be a problem.  

Transmitting PEDs, or T-PEDs, such as a cellphone not in airplane mode, or any device designed to connect to faraway radio networks, such as a Mi-Fi unit designed to create a Wi-Fi network, can pose problems.  

“Right now you should absolutely not use devices that connect with faraway radio networks in flight," Segan said. But the issue isn’t interference with avionics on a plane. The potential problem is actually on the ground, where cellular networks could be disrupted and confused by someone trying to connect from an aircraft moving at 500 mph. 

“Cellular towers are designed to connect with people on the ground moving at 60 mph,”  Segan said.   

Some international carriers, such as Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, already allow in-flight mobile calls.

Segan said airplanes enabled for mobile calls have equipment onboard similar to in-flight Wi-Fi in the U.S.  “These systems create a little network bubble around the plane and talk to special sites on the ground that are prepared to talk to airplanes,” Segan said.

Even carriers that permit in-flight cellular calls require PEDs be turned off for takeoff and landing. 

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