Using iPads, Kindles at takeoff & landing? FAA takes "fresh look"

By John Walton, March 21 2012
Using iPads, Kindles at takeoff & landing? FAA takes

"Please feel free to continue using your electronic devices after the aircraft doors close..." could be what you hear from flight attendants in the cabin if air safety regulators get their act together and finally certify that your iPad or Kindle won't make the plane fall out of the sky.

It's a welcome change of tune from the Federal Aviation Administration (the Stateside version of Australia's CASA), with the FAA's Laura Brown telling the New York Times that the agency is taking a "fresh look" at electronics on planes. And what the FAA and other international safety agencies decide, Australian regulators tend to adopt.

It's been nearly ten years since the FAA's advisors started their last look at inflight electronics, and back then the heights of electronics technology included the mobile phones with colour screens and the third-generation white iPod. (Feeling old yet? We are...)

With so many travellers now carrying tablets, smartphones and ebook readers it's well past time that we're allowed to use them right throughout the flight – including taxi, takeoff and landing.

After all, phones, tablets and other assorted equipment are left in full operating mode by forgetful or bolshie travellers every single day. Aircraft would surely have been plummeting to earth if they actually caused major problems.

And you're already allowed to use electric shavers and dictaphones on takeoff and landing (no, really).

The regulators' problem is mainly down to outmoded testing ideas.

Current regulations require each specific model of an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Kindle and all other electronic devices to be tested for each type of aircraft on every airline -- an expectation that is patently ridiculous.

The plan is now for the FAA to try to get electronics manufacturers to stump up for its special on-the-plane testing for every single one of their devices.

That's even though emissions levels from electronic devices are already regulated by fellow US regulator the Federal Communications Commission and seem to be orders of magnitude lower than planes are required to withstand.

The New York Times took a Kindle to an independent testing lab, and discovered that the Kindle puts out an utterly microscopic amount of electrical emissions.

Every plane is certified to withstand 100 volts per metre of electrical interference. The Kindle put out 0.00003 volts per metre. (Remember the dictaphones you're allowed to use? Those put out more emissions than the Kindle in the Times' test.)

Here's hoping that the FAA's "fresh look" at electronics means that you can keep on reading during taxi, takeoff and landing. After all, those inflight magazines are only updated once a month...

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

27 Jul 2011

Total posts 42

That fact you mention is so significant - surely a certain percentage of passangers already use all types of electronics throughout flights - which, worldwide would probably be tens of thousands of people on thousands of flights every day - and how often do we hear about problems being caused by these? I never have.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Using iPads, Kindles at takeoff & landing? FAA takes "fresh look"