Airline passengers may be allowed more onboard use of devices such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle after carriers perform tests and ask regulators for permission, under recommendations to be made today at 10am.
The Federal Aviation Administration will release a report by an advisory panel and its own plan for action.
Passengers shouldn’t expect immediate changes, one of the people said. That may disappoint device makers and users who want to stay connected during flights, and delay benefits for companies including Gogo Inc., which says it has 82 percent of the inflight Wi-Fi service market in North America.
Even if the FAA announces it will relax existing restrictions, airlines will probably have to do conduct tests showing aircraft radios and navigation equipment are shielded from potential interference from devices, the person said.
Airlines would also have to study the safety risk to passengers in a crash landing if devices became projectiles, according to the official. That may mean that larger electronics, such as laptops, would have to be stowed during landings and takeoffs — limiting their added use.
Allowing broader use of on-board electronics would help Amazon.com, as Kindle owners may have more time to buy and download content, as well as Gogo, based in Itasca, Illinois, and Qualcomm Inc., which won preliminary regulatory clearance in May for an air-to-ground broadband service.
Gogo’s revenue comes from connection and usage charges, and the relaxed rules would allow passengers to use Wi-Fi services longer.
The aviation agency should act to “help passengers stay connected to their loved ones” during Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, Gary Shapiro, chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association, said in a letter to the FAA today. Shapiro’s Arlington, Virginia-based trade group represents device makers including Apple Inc., Amazon and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Oct. 24 the agency’s plans for expanding device use would be released “very quickly.”
The FAA now prohibits use of personal electronic devices while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of portable recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electric shavers. The restrictions are intended to prevent interference with flight controls, radios and navigation equipment.
A framework envisioned by an FAA advisory panel would allow airlines to let devices stay on throughout flights if they can demonstrate it would be safe, said an industry official familiar with the report.
The bar for permission would be higher if an airline wanted its passengers to be able to surf the Internet while pilots landed in zero visibility, which requires them to follow radio beams instead of seeing the runway.
Devices allowed on one fleet of aircraft may be prohibited on another, and instructions to passengers would have to be clearer than today’s blanket prohibition on using devices at altitudes below 10,000 feet, the official said.
The FAA advisory panel sent its recommendations to the agency in September. The release of the report and an announcement of any FAA policy changes were delayed by the 16- day partial government shutdown that began on Oct. 1.
Mobile-phone calls and text messages will remain forbidden at any time during flight. They are separately banned over concerns the signals may interfere with ground networks.
Lawmakers, including Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, have said the FAA was moving too slowly to expand usage and threatened to force changes through legislation.
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