Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Personal Electronics Move Closer to Taking Flight

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
McCaskill, who sometimes flies several times a week, advised the Federal Aviation Administration chief to revise regulations to allow flight passengers to use their electronic devices.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the world’s second-largest carrier, provided data from a customer survey in response to the FAA’s latest request for public comment on updating its rules. It showed that making phone calls ranked a distant sixth desire for passengers wanting to use smartphones onboard planes, behind “reading e-books, text messaging, listening to music, watching movies and playing games.”

Reaction to the FAA’s call for input has been fairly consistent. Aside from Delta’s lengthy data-driven response and McCaskill’s letter to Huerta, thousands of consumer comments also poured in, many questioning whether the devices they are told to turn off onboard actually pose an interference danger.

“I don’t believe it creates any further problems than reading a paper,” one passenger wrote, referring to use of his e-reader during takeoff and landing.

“Nobody believes there is any risk to flight instruments from reading an e-book, listening to music, watching a movie or playing solitaire,” wrote another passenger, who also admitted to surreptitiously using electronics while flying. “It’s time to move on.”

Even FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has urged Huerta to act quickly, telling him last month in a letter that the latest FAA review comes at a time of “tremendous innovation, as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives.”

So interwoven, in fact, that the FAA has already approved — at the airlines’ request — the use of tablet computers in the cockpit to replace bulky printed flight manuals. McCaskill said the move has only heightened the public’s sense that the existing electronics bans for passengers are superfluous.

While the FAA hasn’t commented on the ban since seeking public comment last summer, it’s unlikely a final decision will come quickly. The rule-making panel is expected to consider nine batteries of questions, including whether unstowed electronics could cause projectile injury during turbulent takeoffs and landings.

As part of its public comment submission, Delta also said that over a 32-month period in which it operated 2.3 million flights, “Delta pilots mentioned [electronics] as a potential source of an observed flight equipment discrepancy on only three occasions ... but none were able to be confirmed by any operational or maintenance methodology.”

The airline also noted that despite its employees’ best efforts, “on numerous flights some number of passengers inadvertently leave their [electronics] on.”

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