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"Please turn off all your personal electronic devices?" Not anymore!
The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of gadgets such as tablets, smartphones, iPods and ebook readers during the take-off and landing stages of flights as well as taxiing to and from the gate.
However, phone calls will still be banned throughout the flight and smartphones and tablets with 3G or wi-fi capability will still need to switched into 'flight mode' for the first and last portions of each flight.
"We found that we could protect aviation safety and at the same time address the passenger desire for use of their portable devices," Michael Huerta, the administrator of the FAA, said at a press conference to announce the changes.
"Most commercial planes can handle radio interference from portable electronic devices. It is safe to read e-books and play games. One percent of flights might not be able to tolerate the interference. In those cases passengers will be asked to turn off their devices."
However, travellers will still have to pay attention to the safety briefing before each flight.
The FAA says that airlines will need to submit plans to show how their airplanes and operating procedures will meet the new guidelines, but depending on the condition of the plan, we could approve expanded use of electronic devices very soon," the FAA said.
Domestic US airlines Delta and JetBlue have already lodged their application to embrace the new rules.
"All of our aircraft are ready to go" said Delta Air Lines spokesman Paul Skrbec, adding that the airline already has performed the required tolerance tests on all of its aircraft.
JetBlue Airways is eager to be first off the mark, citing that its relatively small fleet (less than 200 aircraft) comprising only two types of planes will make for fast FAA approval. "We intend to be the first airline to allow fleet-wide PEDs" said spokeswoman Jenny Dervin.
Over to you, CASA...
Australian eyes will now turn to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to see if it follows suit.
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told Australian Business Traveller last month that the authority “will look closely at what the Federal Aviation Administration does with the recommendations."
However, the process of 'changing the rules' in Australia is complicated by the fact that CASA has no rules regarding the use of personal electronic devices inflight, including “no specific regulations governing the use of mobile phones in aircraft”, according to Gibson.
“The issue is covered by rules which require aircraft operators to ensure safety is maintained at all times” Gibson told Australian Business Traveller. “CASA has no current plans to develop specific rules relating to electronic devices.”
"It is important to understand that during take-off and landing pilots have a high workload and have minimal time to respond to any interference affecting aircraft systems” Gibson added.
“If the airlines wish to change the current restrictions they would have to show there was no risk to safety.”
Australian Business Traveller has learned that at least one Australian airline has previously submitted a proposal to CASA for a softening of its rules, so that ebook readers and similar low-power devices could be used during take-off and landing, but the proposal was rejected.
Virgin Australia keen
Virgin Australia is already “in discussion with CASA to work out what’s possible to improve the experience for our customers” said airline spokesman Nathan Scholz.
“We’d welcome a review by CASA into allowing the use of personal electronic devices during take-off and landing” Scholz told Australian Business Traveller.
“But CASA is the ultimate arbiter and they have the final decision on whether any proposal meets regulation, so we need to abide by their rules and find a way to make them comfortable which whatever we might propose.”