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FAA Approves In-Flight Electronics Usage if Airlines Pass Tests

@jasonclampet

Oct 31, 2013 7:15 am

Skift Take

We’re all for getting rid of silly rules, but we’re also fans of planes working. The FAA committee’s recommendation that airlines base their decision on the age and type of planes they are flying — even if that means we need to keep our Kindles off for 10 minutes — seems to be the smart way forward.

— Jason Clampet

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Alaska Airlines

An iPad charging on an Alaska Airlines flight. Alaska Airlines


The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that it will allow the use of electronic devices at all stages of flight, but that airlines will have to test their own aircraft to make sure there is no interference.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta held a press conference today at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. to announce the agency’s response to a report and recommendations from the Portable Electronic Devices Aviation committee it established in January. The committee submitted on September 30 its recommendations on how the FAA should regulate the use of iPhones, Kindles, iPads and other devices from take-off to landing. [full report embedded below]

The FAA released a statement prior to the press conference that read, “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance.”

“Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.”

The key points from the FAA included:

  1. Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
  2. Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
  3. Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use.

The ruling does not affect the use of phones to text or make calls, which will still be prohibited.

Delta Air Lines quickly released a statement saying “All Delta aircraft have completed carrier-defined PED tolerance testing to ensure the safe operation of passenger portable electronic devices during all phases of flight and Delta’s plan has been submitted to the FAA for approval.” It expects to remove all restrictions on in-flight electronics usage on its primary fleet tomorrow and on its commuter aircraft in the new year.

JetBlue released a statement announcing it had filed a plan with the FAA as well.

The differences in the age and type of an airline’s fleet was a main concern of the FAA’s PED committee. Michael Childers, an committee member who represented the Airline Passenger Experience Association told Skift, “While newer aircraft are far more resistant to PED emissions than was the case a decade ago, and while PEDs themselves have changed in ways that likely reduce emissions, we nonetheless were not comfortable with a ‘there is no problem’ response.”

“We recommended a reasonable process for risk assessment and risk mitigation that we believe is necessary to ensure the safety of the flying public. Once the risk assessment and mitigation process are implemented, PED usage from gate-to-gate is a reality.”

Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines told CNBC, “A large number of our customers bring a smartphone or tablet on board the airplane so their ability to use it — as long as it’s safe for the airline — we would be fully in support of that.” Baldanza also suggested that the additional time from gate-to-gate would lead to greater profit margins on in-flight Wi-Fi on Spirit, which it doesn’t currently provide.

Airlines that have relatively new fleets, as well as only a few types of aircraft — like JetBlue, Virgin America, and Southwest — will be able to speed through the required testing much faster than legacy carriers like United or regional airlines with a mix of aircraft type of different ages.

Once the testing is done, airlines will also need to communicate the message clearly to passengers, which will cause some confusion among passengers who will have to learn on a flight-by-flight basis on which flights they can freely use their devices.

The committee’s 25 members represented a broad swath of the aviation and electronics industries. Most vocal among the members was Amazon.com’s Paul Misener, who also managed a lobbying effort in Washington both before and during the time the committee was working.

Amazon issued a statement this morning that read, “We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years – testing an airplane packed full of Kindles, working with the FAA, and serving as the device manufacturer on this committee. This is a big win for customers and, frankly, it’s about time.”

History of the FAA’s Proposed Changes

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