In the coming week, the FAA is due to hear back from a panel of industry representatives, who could recommend that the agency relax its rules regarding in-flight use of PEDs and allow passengers to keep working through all phases of flight.
The FAA has for decades required PEDs to be shut off during takeoff and landing to prevent interference with a plane's communication and navigation equipment. Frequent flyers and commuters who may need those extra few minutes to finish work or an important call have complained that the rule is arcane and should be modified.
The proliferation of mobile devices, spurred in part by popular connected Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad, has made the issue more pressing as almost every passenger carries some type of handset, multimedia player or computer on board. Many turn to these devices for entertainment or work while traveling.
Some argue that the regulations are too strict, citing the fact that passengers often leave their devices turned on, accidentally or purposely, with no perceivable negative impact to the plane's instrumentation. Of course the rules are in place as a precautionary measure, but those in opposition say the FAA should take a second look at the extent of the restrictions.
"The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft,'' the agency said in a statement Monday, as reported by USA Today. "That is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions. . . . We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps."
FAA regulations are "inconvenient to travelers, don't make sense, and lack a scientific basis." - Sen. Claire McCaskill
Supporting the effort to loosen restrictions is Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who serves as Chairman of the Senate panel on Consumer Protection. McCaskill is pushing for "commonsense" changes to the FAA regulations, saying the existing protocols are "inconvenient to travelers, don't make sense, and lack a scientific basis."
As for the FAA's final judgment on the matter, McCaskill said she is prepared to take the issue to Congress if the agency chooses not keep the existing rules without offering a compelling explanation.
"Given the technological advancement of both PEDs and critical air navigation and flight control systems since the rules were put in place, updated protocols for safe use of PEDs on board commercial flights are long overdue," McCaskill said.
Apple's iPad has gained momentum in the aviation industry with the tablet being used as an electronic flight bag for pilots flying for American Airlines, Jet Blue, and smaller regional companies. More recently, Hawaiian Airlines adopted the iPad mini as an in-flight entertainment hub for certain routes, a strategy already in use by other airlines like Qantas.
The FAA's determination will likely be announced in the coming week, though "technicalities" held up a similar decision in March. News that the agency was investigating a possible change to its regulations was first reported in June.