Welcome news from Nick Bilton: the FAA finally is revisiting the policy that keeps Kindles, iPads and the like turned off during takeoffs and landing.
The FAA told Bilton it will take a “fresh look” at whether some devices can be used safely and how a policy could be framed. Smartphones aren’t included in the review.
U.S. airlines currently call for all devices to be turned off and stowed before planes can pull away from the gate despite a lack of data proving they are safety risks. Some airlines I fly allow use of cell phones until just before the door closes but insist my Kindle or other device be shut down considerably before that and sometimes as much as 30 or 45 minutes before landing.
The current personal electronics rule dating back to 2006 (described in this FAA circular) canceled one that banned use of personal electronics and shifted responsibility completely to the operators.
It allows airlines to offer fliers the use of certain devices but only if the airline can prove each allowed device won’t interfere with the plane’s performance. As Bilton and the FAA point out, that hasn’t happened.
Why haven’t the airlines stepped up? To challenge the policy, each one has to test each device on each kind of plane it operates. If American Airlines has tested the iPad 2 on an MD-80, for instance, it wouldn’t be able to allow me to use the third-gen iPad when I leave for New York tomorrow on that same model plane. It’s much easier for them to avoid the problem and far less expensive than trying to run through the hoops every time a new device comes out.
What will change now? The FAA’s Laura Brown tell Bilton the agency is looking for ways to bring the various interested parties from airlines to unions to consumer associations and manufacturers together — passengers, too — to find a cost-effective solution. No details yet on how that could happen or would be funded. (Hmmm, Kickstarter?)
While the primary issue here is potential disruption of avionics, I’ve also been told by a number of flight attendants that having the devices out at all is a safety issue. In a previous reporting life, I covered the Sioux City plane crash and the various elements that contributed to who survived, who died, how and why. After numerous interviews with survivors, including most of the flight attendants on United Flight 232, I’m acutely sensitive to safety issues and I’ve thought about those concerns in that light.
Having headphones and music turned off makes sense. Ditto putting away heavy items like computers. Telling me a Kindle has to be put away when a book can stay on my lap or someone can hold onto a cup of hot coffee is just another way of justifying a policy that doesn’t have the data to back it up. I agree with Bilton:
It is in everyone’s interest that we move from unscientific fears to real scientific testing.
In the meantime, that reminds me — I need to put the latest New Yorker in my bag.