Politico reported on Thursday that Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) had expressed concern over FAA Administrator Michael Huerta's "lack of direct engagement" on the issue of electronics use during takeoff and landing. Currently, airline passengers are required to power down portable electronics devices from the closing of cabin doors until ten minutes after takeoff. Likewise, passengers must turn off their devices prior to the plane's landing and are not supposed to restart them until so advised by the flight crew.
In March of last year, the FAA announced that it would be taking a fresh look at the use of portable electronics on airplanes. The agency convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to address the issue, and that committee is expected to deliver its recommendations some time over the summer.
In a letter to Huerta, McCaskill expressed disappointment at the agency's pace in dealing with the matter.
"I am concerned," McCaskill wrote, "that relying on the ARC to drive change on this issue creates the potential for the process to drag on indefinitely. Many stakeholders have entrenched positions on this issue and have long resisted commonsense changes to the [portable electronic devices] rules... I was disappointed by the lack of commitment to the matter in your response.
Simply put, electronic devices that are currently allowed above 10,000 feet should be allowed for use during all phases of flight. It is preposterous to think that an e-reader in a passenger's hands during takeoff is anymore a threat to other passengers or crew members than a hardback book."
McCaskill's letter was in response to a previous reply from Huerta, dated February 12, 2013. In it, Huerta stated that the FAA was "still reviewing and evaluating the more detailed comments for the ARC," and asserted a six-month timeline before the ARC would present its recommendations to the FAA.
Speaking with Politico, McCaskill again expressed her disappointment with Huerta's response, saying that the next step for her would be "calling in the stakeholders ourselves and beginning to try to pull together the right legislation."
McCaskill says it's too early to tell what form any bill to address the impasse would take. The Missouri senator says she will continue to work with the FAA to resolve the impasse, but she reiterated that she wants more engagement from Huerta.
In 2011, the FAA authorized a number of commercial and charter airlines to replace 40-pound paper manuals with iPads. Late in 2012, American Airlines expanded its iPad Electronic Flight Bag program to allow 777 aircraft pilots to use the iPad during all phases of flight. The weight reduction enabled by switching to digital devices is estimated to have saved about $1.2 million per year on fuel costs.