Report: FAA to ease up on in-flight electronic gadgets

5:30 PM, Sep 23, 2013   |    comments
A jet flies past the FAA control tower at Washington Reagan National Airport. (Photo: Cliff Owen, AP)
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(USATODAY.com) - A federal advisory panel continues to study whether to ease rules against using electronic gadgets on planes during takeoffs and landings, but the effort remains contentious.

The Federal Aviation Administration asked last year for a panel of industry and labor representatives to study whether to ease restrictions against using electronics while taxiing, taking off or landing.

The panel was scheduled to make its recommendations next month, but the FAA announced Friday it would extend the deadline to September.

"The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft," the FAA said in a statement. "At the group's request, the FAA has granted a two-month extension to complete the additional work necessary for the safety assessment. We will wait for the group to finish its work before we determine next steps."

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that a draft report by the advisory committee indicates its 28 members have reached a consensus that at least some of the current restrictions should be eased. But details are still being debated and there are gaps in the report.

The FAA restrictions on electronics date to before the advent of smartphones and computer tablets. The restrictions resulted from concerns that electronics could interfere with a plane's guidance and communications systems.

But risk to cockpit equipment is considered lower now as gadgets emit less and plane equipment is better insulated. Travelers have become impatient to use their own gadgets, as pilots and flight attendants are increasing using electronic tablets in their work.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is among the advocates for allowing passengers to read or listen to music or watch videos while planes are lower than 10,000 feet in the air. She has threatened legislation if the FAA doesn't loosen the rules.

"It's good to see the FAA may be on the verge of acknowledging what the traveling public has suspected for years-that current rules are arbitrary and lack real justification," McCaskill said. "In the meantime, I'll continue my effort to have these regulations rigorously examined until scientific evidence has been presented to justify them, or the rules are altered."

But airline crew members say allowing some electronics while banning others would be difficult to enforce. Using cell phones on planes is prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission and the FAA study wouldn't change that rule.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which is a member the advisory panel, said any conclusions about the report are "premature" and that details are "expected to change significantly before final publication."

"AFA supports technical innovation, but our first priorities are the safety and security of flight, as they are for the FAA, other aviation stakeholders and the traveling public," the union said in a statement.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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