FAA look­ing at eas­ing use of de­vices on run­way waits

Agency seeks to find ways to test elec­tron­ics

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY JOAN LOWY

The gov­ern­ment is tak­ing a ten­ta­tive step to­ward mak­ing it eas­ier for air­lines to al­low pas­sen­gers to use per­sonal elec­tronic de­vices such as tablets, eread­ers and mu­sic play­ers dur­ing take­offs and land­ings.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said Mon­day it is “ex­plor­ing ways to bring to­gether all of the key stake­hold­ers in­volved” — in­clud­ing air­lines, air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers, con­sumer elec­tron­ics mak­ers, and flight at­ten­dant unions — to dis­cuss whether there are prac­ti­cal ways to test de­vices to de­ter­mine whether they are safe for pas­sen­gers to use dur­ing crit­i­cal phases of flight.

Tech­ni­cally, FAA rules al­ready per­mit any air­line to test spe­cific makes and mod­els to de­ter­mine whether they gen­er­ate so much power they could in­ter­fere with sen­si­tive cock­pit ra­dios, nav­i­ga­tion in­stru­ments and other crit­i­cal equip­ment. But few air­lines have done that kind of ex­ten­sive test­ing be­cause there are so many de­vices, and test­ing them all — or even many — isn’t prac­ti­cal.

In­stead, the fall­back po­si­tion has been to com­ply with FAA rules re­quir­ing pas­sen­gers to turn off all elec­tronic de­vices while the air­craft’s al­ti­tude is be­low 10,000 feet.

Even if a de­vice were tested and ap­proved for use to­day, later it­er­a­tions of the same ma­chine might be dif­fer­ent enough that they would have to be tested again. To­day’s Ap­ple ipad, for ex­am­ple, isn’t the same as the orig­i­nal ipad de­vel­oped three years ago.

“Can any de­vice do this? The an­swer is no. All de­vices are not cre­ated equal. Some have more power than oth­ers,” said Kevin Hi­att, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the in­dus­try-sup­ported Flight Safety Foun­da­tion of Alexan­dria.

An­other con­cern is the “ad­di­tive ef­fects” of a planeload of 200 peo­ple us­ing de­vices at once ver­sus one pas­sen­ger us­ing a de­vice, said Kenny Kir­choff, se­nior re­search and de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer at the Boe­ing Co.

Re­cently man­u­fac­tured planes have more shield­ing built into their wiring and other elec­tronic equip­ment to pre­vent most elec­tro­mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence, but planes that pre­date the early 1990s don’t have nearly as much shield­ing, he said.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing “this is an area of con­sumer in­ter­est,” the FAA said in a state­ment that “no changes will be made un­til we are cer­tain they will not im­pact safety and se­cu­rity.”

One de­vice that won’t be in­cluded in the dis­cus­sions: Cell phones, in­clud­ing smart­phones. An­other gov­ern­ment agency — the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion — al­ready pro­hibits their use aloft for rea­sons un­re­lated to safety con­cerns. Be­cause planes travel at hun­dreds of miles per hour, cell­phones on air­lin­ers could skip so rapidly from cell tower to cell tower that they might in­ter­fere with the ser­vice of phone users on the ground, avi­a­tion ex­perts said.

Con­sumer de­mand to use per­sonal elec­tron­ics at all times on board planes has been in­creas­ing, es­pe­cially on flights with long de­lays wait­ing for take­off.

A study done a year ago by Chad­dick In­sti­tute for Met­ro­pol­i­tan De­vel­op­ment at Depaul Univer­sity in Chicago found that tablet use on com­mer­cial flights was in­creas­ing rapidly. At that time, an es­ti­mated 1 in 12 air­line pas­sen­gers was us­ing a tablet.

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