FAA reconsiders limits on consumer electronics in the sky

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNNUpdated 28th August 2012
The Federal Aviation Administration will review policies limiting use of consumer electronics in flight.
Will the familiar warning for airline passengers to "discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices" become a relic of the past?
By popular demand, the Federal Aviation Administration is forming a group to study policies governing the use of consumer electronics in the sky.
The review could lead to increased use of iPads, portable DVD players and other consumer electronics in aircraft cabins.
But don't pull out your cell phone yet.
The new group will not consider the use of cell phones for voice communications while in flight. That's because cell phones are banned by the Federal Communications Commission -- not by the FAA -- over concerns of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground.
The FAA, meanwhile, limits devices because of fears that consumer electronics could interfere with airplane communications and navigation systems. A study completed last year cited 75 instances in which consumer electronics were suspected of interfering with plane systems, although it is hard to verify pilots' suspicions because of the difficulty of replicating incidents.
All the while, airline travelers are mystified by policies that allow devices on some airlines but not others. And they are bewildered by policies that allow many pilots to use laptops and iPads when passengers cannot.
The FAA says the current regulations simply allow passengers to use devices when it has been demonstrated that they can be used safely, and some airlines are more aggressive at testing than others.
"With so many different types of devices available, we recognize that this is an issue of consumer interest," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The new government-industry group, to be formally established this fall, will attempt to bring order to the chaos. The group will study current policies and procedures governing portable electronic devices.
The FAA said the group will examine a variety of issues, including the testing methods aircraft operators use to determine which new technologies passengers can safely use aboard aircraft and when they can use them. The group will also look at the establishment of technological standards associated with the use of portable electronic devices during any phase of flight.
The group will meet for six months and then present its recommendations to the FAA.
The FAA is also seeking public input, and a request for comments will appear in the Federal Register on Tuesday.