FAA Admits That It's Going To Rethink Whether You Can Use Kindles & Tablets On Takeoff & Landing

from the about-time dept

It’s been pretty clear for quite some time that there’s no real safety reason why electronics are barred during takeoff and landing on airplanes. Furthermore, there’s no legitimate technological reason for not allowing mobile phones on planes either — that one’s more just about keeping other passengers from going into a rage at having to hear others’ half-conversations. However, it seems that more and more people are getting annoyed that they can’t use their snazzy new ebooks or tablet computers (not just iPads, mind you) on airplane take-off and landings. Nick Bilton, over at the NY Times, asked the FAA what was up with that, and they admitted that they’re taking “a fresh look” at those devices and whether or not they should be allowed to be used at those times. Of course, as he notes, this might just lead to a bunch of bureaucratic red tape — including every possible device having to go through significant testing:

Abby Lunardini, vice president of corporate communications at Virgin America, explained that the current guidelines require that an airline must test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the F.A.A. For example, if the airline wanted to get approval for the iPad, it would have to test the first iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad, each on a separate flight, with no passengers on the plane.

It would have to do the same for every version of the Kindle. It would have to do it for every different model of plane in its fleet. And American, JetBlue, United, Air Wisconsin, etc., would have to do the same thing. (No wonder the F.A.A. is keeping smartphones off the table since there are easily several hundred different models on the market.)

Ms. Lunardini added that Virgin America would like to perform these tests, but the current guidelines make it “prohibitively expensive, especially for an airline with a relatively small fleet that is always in the air on commercial flights like ours.”

But, hopefully, a better, more efficient process can be found, and people will actually be able to use these devices on airplanes that aren’t just over 10,000 feet…

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Comments on “FAA Admits That It's Going To Rethink Whether You Can Use Kindles & Tablets On Takeoff & Landing”

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peter says:

Mobile phones

“Furthermore, there’s no legitimate technological reason for not allowing mobile phones on planes either”

Much as I agree with the general thrust of your argument (i.e. no particular EMC/safety reason to ban general electronic devices such as tablets), there is a very good technological reason for not allowing the use of mobile phones on planes.

Bacically its to do with the handoff of a mobile phone from one cell to another and if you are in a plane, the cellphone can see multiple cells and the multiple conitinuous handovers it causes sends the cell network into a tizzy. There is also the problem of reducing the chanel reuse, which is at the heart of a cell networks’s ability to handle millions of cellphones.

At least one airline is getting the message that a straight ban on all devices is silly. We were allowed to use any devices during flight, even mobile phones as long as they were switched to aircraft mode.

@peter #1 says:

Re: Mobile phones

So the FAA regulates mobile phone networks now? Because the signals go through the same air the aviation industry relies on?

If the cell networks go into a tizzy because something is flying by at 500 mph, then there is probably a technological fix that can be instituted to look for that circumstance and minimize its effect. But cell networks’ tizzy-fits have yet to bring down a single airplane, and most likely never will.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Mobile phones

Bacically its to do with the handoff of a mobile phone from one cell to another and if you are in a plane, the cellphone can see multiple cells and the multiple conitinuous handovers it causes sends the cell network into a tizzy. There is also the problem of reducing the chanel reuse, which is at the heart of a cell networks’s ability to handle millions of cellphones.

This is a problem that was “solved” ages ago with pico cells. We already see it on tons of airplanes with internet access. No reason it wouldn’t work for mobile phones too.

That was the old excuse, but it’s no excuse any more.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Mobile phones

Still the annoying factor persists. My case in point is, I am very OCD and so other minor personality issues. I was seated next to a guy who had his cellphone on while we were waiting to take off (after the turn off cellphone sign lit up) which normally wouldn’t bother me however, not only was I listening to one half of a heated argument but the gentleman next to me was very, vocal and animate with hand and arm gestures equally flailing randomly. I actually thought he might be having a seizure of some sort. I feel that sort of thing would be a good reason to ban them, tight quarters and people who can’t sit still is not a good combination.

PlagueSD says:

Re: Mobile phones

Bacically its to do with the handoff of a mobile phone from one cell to another and if you are in a plane, the cellphone can see multiple cells and the multiple conitinuous handovers it causes sends the cell network into a tizzy. There is also the problem of reducing the chanel reuse, which is at the heart of a cell networks’s ability to handle millions of cellphones.

You ever try getting a signal from a cell tower at 36,000 feet up? If you do end up connecting to a tower, you’re moving so fast that by the time you do end up getting a signal, you’re out of range. (Last flight I was on, my phone’s GPS had me at around 37,000 ft up and traveling around 300mph.) Yes, GPS still works because you’re using satellites.

The only thing leaving your cell phone on in an airplane does is drain the battery while it tries to find a cell tower.

Anonymous Coward says:

Faraday invented some cages that could help, and people today have discovered fiber optics is a wonderful thing since it doesn’t transmit interfering electro-magnetic signals.

But they could get scared about those Blimpduinos (a.k.a. UAVs) controlled by iPads and iPhones, someone could control one to deliver or drop a bomb on the plane 🙂

abc gum says:

“hopefully, a better, more efficient process can be found”

paper backs and magazines?

Old school airline courtesy accommodations included recent periodicals onboard. The flight attendants would even ask passengers if they would like something to read. This was before everyone was treated like cattle.

Now days they have ads in every seatback, dont you feel special? Even your dentist has better reading material.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“This was before everyone was treated like cattle.”

have you considered that the demand is for pricing like cattle? Why do you think airlines are charging for every checked bag now? They are trying their hardest to meet your price point demands, and if that means cutting everything except toilet paper in the loo, then they will do it.

You want to pay a cattle price, so you get cattle service.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cattle price?

Lost in your pseudo-analysis is the manner in which airlines meet the price point demands: charging fee upon fee for extras or slight increases in comfort are how they make ridiculous profits for a select few.

Pilots and crew do not make incredible dollars. Flight line sure doesn’t. ATC, nope. Gate staff, nope. Yet, subsidy dollars keep flowing their way. Where’s the money going?

It sure isn’t going into a positive flight experience. Seats are cramped, service is diminished, and we’re saddled with security theater that forces flyers to buy overpriced water at Hudson News. There’s a racket going on for sure, but it’s not driven by customer demand for poor treatment.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m asking for the cattle price! I fly regularly for personal and professional reasons, and as far as I’m concerned the plane can be a greyhound bus with wings that has to take off by using a ramp if it keeps the cost low and the safety is mostly there (who wants to live forever?).

I’ll just put my chin to my sternum, put my headphones in, and sleep for the 6-7 hour flight.

Anonymous Coward says:

What I don’t get is this: The amount of time on a flight that you cannot use these devices is from 0 to 10,000 feet going up and 10,000 to 0 coming down. It’s a very small percentage of the total flight time, even for very short haul flights. It would seem that the public’s grand need is just getting a little greedy.

I don’t know if the devices would ever effect a plane. I don’t want to find out when I am in one.

Cowardly Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

It is not a matter of public greed, but of a rule that has become unnecessary but yet remains in place. There is no benefit to the existence of this rule to anyone, and as such it stands to reason that the rule should be phased out.

Given a small hassle v. nothing and the small hassle is the more important one.

Further, the fact of the matter is that the tests wouldn’t be carried out if there was reason to believe that it would be disruptive to the plane itself.

I’m reasonably certain the initial bans came from a fear that communications technology could potentially interfere with crucial communications from the control tower. Such a test can easily be carried out in a parallel, and there shouldn’t be any need to test every iteration of a device.

Miko says:

Re: Re:

“I don’t know if the devices would ever effect a plane. I don’t want to find out when I am in one.”

By contrast, I do know whether these devices would effect a plane (to whit, they wouldn’t) and I absolutely want to find out when I’m in one (by actually using the device). Why should the fact that you don’t understand basic science be a reason to inconvenience the rest of us?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: RE:

The Mythbusters already did an episode where they put a high powered transmitter in the cockpit of an airplane and blasted it full blast. The result? It had no effect on any of the readings or electronics or anything whatsoever.

As the episode notes, airplanes are specifically hard wired to easily withstand high powered electromagnetic interferences without being affected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Arbitrary Government Power

Right on, I’ve never heard of a company putting profit over passenger safety. I mean think of all the PR they’d have to spin if an untested engine causes a plane crash. Just don’t worry about the insurance they pay on the plane. That would barely cover the cost to have it shipped to the recycling yard.

big al says:

ipads in cockpits

seems to me that there is a vast number of tablets in use every day in mil and general aviation… 7 million by the just spent by the airforce… general aviation uses them for everything from checklists to navigation. nope greed is the answer.if you can charge it .. keep it regulated and make em pay and pay and….

Overcast (profile) says:

The TSA causes way too much of a pain in the ass to fly. As luck would also have it, the exorbitant high air fare rates completely justify – actually MAKE ME LOOK GOOD at work saving $$ – when I choose to get rental cars instead of flying.

Plus, my wife can spend the entire drive on the kindle if she so chooses. I would, of course, be busy driving anyway.

Why this is even something the FAA is wasting time on boggles my mind… no wonder this country is falling into the toilet – look at how the tax dollars are being spent.

With the incompetence of the TSA and FAA – iPads and Kindle are the least of our worries.

Pickle Monger (profile) says:

Serenity now!

Here’s what I don’t get. Here’s the article though that’s not the one I remember reading last year:
It talks about FAA having already approved the iPad for use by pilots during take-off and landings and possibly using them for aviation maps rather than having pilots haul tons of maps around.
So wouldn’t that prove that iPads do not interfere with flight controls? Or am I missing something?

theangryintern (profile) says:

Here’s a question: Do the pilots have to turn their iPads off during take off and landing? I remember seeing an article a while back where I think it was United Airlines was putting all their flight manuals onto iPads for the pilots to use so they didn’t have to lug around heavy books anymore. If they can use them *IN* the cockpit, there’s no reason the passengers can’t use them in the cabin.

Anon says:

I don't get it...

So basically the FAA is saying that someone can carry an electronic device on an airplane that can cause a plane to crash?

Any electronic device disguised as a consumer electronic can make it through carry-on luggage screening. And for the most part we are relying on herd compliance to know if those devices are turned off. Hell I’ve accidentally forgotten to turn my phone off and only discovered the fact after I land and my battery is drained.

I can understand the FAA wanting people to listen to the safety announcement, but after that, what’s the point?

I am far more worried about someone intentionally trying to bring a plane down using a purpose built device than any UL/CE certified consumer electronic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hey! What if we crowdsourced testing this! I can personally attest that the ipod nano, ipod clip, cowon d2+ (with and without SD card), sandisk clip, droid incredible, etc… can all be operated for the duration of your flight without causing interference/fiery death. Or at least if they did each time I flew the pilot didn’t complain.

If everyone just submitted a list of devices they’ve used when they said they were off (yeah, really, my music player’s off, I just don’t feel like taking the earbuds out, sure) I bet we could have the majority of phones/music players cleared in a week.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A friend’s dad works at Boeing and tested all this stuff. On really old planes (DC3), the shielding is really bad and many electronics cause issues.

But on all modern planes built in the last 40 years, there are no issues.

The one issue that does exist is the cell phone issue. I have heard from several friends in the cell phone industry that cells going from tower to tower at 500+ miles per hour would really cause issues if there were hundreds of them doing it at once. Still, they would probably solve it for the extra revenue.

But personally, I am all for an all-but-phones rule right now. It should be fine.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The one issue that does exist is the cell phone issue. I have heard from several friends in the cell phone industry that cells going from tower to tower at 500+ miles per hour would really cause issues if there were hundreds of them doing it at once.

Issues for what, the cell network or the plane? If the former and not the latter, the FAA should not be involved.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Call the bluff and enjoy the Clash of the Titans

If there electronic devices and mobile phones could actually cause a crash if used during take of and landing, then they should be considered a terrorist threat. If terrorist as willing to sneak a bomb on plane in the diaper of an infant, then surely they have devised a plan to call home on a mobile phone during take off while playing their iPods.

Protect the children from terrorists on planes. We need to let the TSA confiscate these deadly devices at the direction of the FAA and then watch how quickly the whole issue gets SOPA’d.

Violated (profile) says:


They are just doing an all electronics off rule.

While it is true that mostly all devices are harmless imagine if one person tampered with their device in their basement and it now spews out signals that would crash the plane.

An all off rule avoids that situation. Then if a really bad device caused a plane malfunction in the air then the pilot have plenty of time to scream out “all devices off” while the fly is falling out of the sky.

Now I am not saying it is not extremely extremely unlikely for this to happen but why even take that risk instead of waiting a few minutes?

The only exception I would like to permit would be cameras that have no transmitter built in. I have before enjoyed recording the take off or landing on video.

btr1701 says:


I was recently scolded by a stewardess to ‘stow’ my iPad away for takeoff because I wasn’t allowed to hold it on my lap, even though it was off. She said it was a safety issue, as it could become a flying missile if there was some kind of turbulent emergency.

I calmly pointed to the guy sitting next to me, who was reading his dead-tree hardcover book, at least twice the size and weight of my iPad, and which was an even greater missile danger. Yet he was allowed to keep his book unstowed.

She pursed her lips as she realized the logical absurdity involved, but nevertheless made me stow the iPad, saying, “I don’t make the rules, I only enforce them.”

abc gum says:

Re: Books

All passengers should be handcuffed and shock collared, you know, just in case.

It would be even better if they were sedated, strapped to a backboard and stacked like bricks, that way the airlines could get more passengers per flight thus maximizing their profits. Oh yeah – and they could get rid of all those whiny flight attendants too.

To the white board … we will need a catchy slogan.

Matthew Lyon says:

Just lump em all together

Put one of each device on one plane and see if there are any problems.
If there aren’t then those devices are fine, if there IS a problem, then hunt down the offending device(s).
The problem caused will tell you how to detect which device is causing problems.

The argument that it is exorbitantly expensive is an excuse to maintain the status quo

Richard says:

From what one understands, some of the regulations in the US have to do with the FCC, not the FAA, regarding the issue of a phone trying to communicate with multiple cell towers on the ground. Mike mentioned that this would not be an issue if there was an onboard picocell (if one is correct, this means that phones onboard would try to communicate with the picocell.) Of course, there may be issues of cost, especially if it is important for the picocell system to always be functional in order to avoid disruption of traditional cell towers.

On a slightly different topic: is there any truth to the statement that (in the US at least) that persons who are piloting or riding in a hot-air balloon are legally disallowed from using cell phones? (In such a case, it would seem that interference with avionics would essentially be a non-issue, though there might be an issue with a phone contacting multiple cell towers on the ground. Even so, a hot-air balloon would not drift through the air anywhere near as fast as a jetliner. Also from what one understands, it can be convenient for persons riding in hot-air balloons to use two-way radios to communicate with ground crews.)

Alex says:

It doesn't even matter!

Next time you take a flight to wherever, take the 30 seconds to enable bluetooth and maybe even WI-FI. Can you count how many people just don’t give a f**k and leave bluetooth, wi-fi, data, and everything else on? And that’s probably only your cabin.

What I did in the last plane I went to (true story, happened on Air Canada) is mess around with this guy in the row in front of me. I noticed he was using a Bluetooth mouse, so I looked at the computer he was using. It was a Macbook Pro.

On my own Macbook, I connected to him via Bluetooth repeatedly, and also found out his name. When he finally turned off his Bluetooth, I looked at his seat number and created a Wi-Fi network named “Thank Seat 11C”.

After around 3 hours, I found out that I still had the network open. How? Apparently the flight attendant was checking up and got pissed. He was requested to shutdown his computer!

Long story short, noone gives a FUCK about the wireless networking rules in aircrafts.

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