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FAA to review in-flight gadget policies, maybe, eventually

The US Federal Aviation Administration today announced it is exploring ways to make it easier for airlines to allow travelers to use connected gadgets like phones, iPads, and tablet PCs during plane takeoff and landing.

A statement released today says the FAA is “exploring ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved” (airlines, plane manufacturers, consumer electronics producers, and unions representing flight attendants) to discuss the possibility of testing devices to determine if they are safe for passengers to use during the most critical phases of flight.

“No changes will be made until we are certain they will not impact safety and security," read the statement. FAA rules currently require fliers to shut down their electronic devices when the plane's altitude is below 10,000 feet.

Snip from Nick Bilton at the NYT's Bits blog:

Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications at Virgin America, explained that the current guidelines require that an airline must test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the F.A.A. For example, if the airline wanted to get approval for the iPad, it would have to test the first iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad, each on a separate flight, with no passengers on the plane.

It would have to do the same for every version of the Kindle. It would have to do it for every different model of plane in its fleet. And American, JetBlue, United, Air Wisconsin, etc., would have to do the same thing. (No wonder the F.A.A. is keeping smartphones off the table since there are easily several hundred different models on the market.) Ms. Lunardini added that Virgin America would like to perform these tests, but the current guidelines make it “prohibitively expensive, especially for an airline with a relatively small fleet that is always in the air on commercial flights like ours.”

More at the New York Times, Associated Press, and Wall Street Journal.

Photo: "Person Holding a Business Phone While on a Plane," Jim Lopes, Shutterstock.

Report: Kindle produces nearly no electrical interference. FAA: "LALALALALA"

Nick Bilton put the FAA's claims regarding Kindles and airline avionics to the test. The result? They emit less EM interference than planes are required by law to withstand.

The F.A.A. requires that before a plane can be approved as safe, it must be able to withstand up to 100 volts per meter of electrical interference. When EMT Labs put an Amazon Kindle through a number of tests, the company consistently found that this e-reader emitted less than 30 microvolts per meter when in use. That’s only 0.00003 of a volt. “The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.”

We always knew that if gadgets were really a threat to avionics, we would not be allowed to bring them into the cabin at all. We know that many travelers keep on using them anyway, on the sly. Thanks to Bilton, the bare lie shines through a little brighter. But it leaves the question: why do these institutions insist on clinging to this particular line of security nonsense?

It's as it the standards in use were defined by some bureaucratic committee in the mists of history, rather than any reasonable application of the science involved.

I always suspected that these rules are a vestigial tail of policies contrived to protect the old racket of in-air phone calls and paid in-flight entertainment. Though the market for that stuff is dead, the rules lumber on.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to have my tinfoil hat steamed.

Disruptions: Norelco on Takeoff? Fine. Kindle? No. [NYT Bits]