Thursday, October 31, 2013

Federal Aviation Administration Says Fliers Can Use Devices During All Phases of Flight: WSJ

The Wall Street Journal

By  Jack Nicas and  Andy Pasztor

Updated Oct. 31, 2013 12:47 p.m. ET


Federal aviation regulators on Thursday unveiled steps to lift restrictions on electronic devices in flight, saying that fliers generally should be allowed to use tablets, e-readers and other gadgets during all phases of flight by the end of this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision, embracing recent recommendations by a high-level advisory group, effectively ends years of safety debates over the use of the devices. The FAA said it is providing airlines with guidelines to carry out the new policy.

Current rules require passengers to turn off all electronic devices on planes below 10,000 feet. Under the new rules, passengers will be able to use hand-held devices such as tablets and e-readers from gate to gate. Larger items like laptops will have to be stowed during takeoffs and landings.

Passengers will be able to use smartphones below 10,000 feet to watch movies, listen to music or access the onboard Wi-Fi system, if available, but the cellular signal must be turned off.

"We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumer's increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Before airlines can allow their customers to use electronics below 10,000 feet, they must comply with a new five-step process for proving their aircraft can tolerate any electronic emissions from fliers' devices. The FAA said specific implementation plans and timetables will vary, but that it expects many carriers to be able to allow their fliers to use devices gate to gate by year-end. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters that the FAA aims "to promote consistency for passengers" traveling on different airlines. He said he anticipates "expanded use will come very soon."

Airlines are already racing to be the first to allow their customers to use devices from gate to gate, giving the carriers a marketing advantage and expanding the window when they can sell content and connectivity.

Delta Air Lines Inc., for instance, said it has already completed tolerance testing and "is ready to allow its customers to be the first to use their portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet as early as Nov. 1," pending FAA approval.

JetBlue Airways Corp., meanwhile, said it has already completed step one of the five-step process "and is well under way" on step two.

"We intend to be the first commercial airline in the United States to allow gate-to-gate use of personal electronics devices," Robin Hayes, JetBlue's chief commercial officer, said Thursday. "To support that goal, we began the certification process with the FAA today."

While virtually all U.S. carriers are expected to eventually allow fliers to use their devices, the industry differs greatly on the ability to offer Wi-Fi during all phases of flight.

JetBlue, Southwest Airlines Co. and United Continental Holdings Inc.  may emerge as winners, as their Wi-Fi providers said their systems generally function at all altitudes.

But Gogo Inc., which provides Wi-Fi to roughly three-quarters of the approximately 2,100 connected commercial aircraft in the U.S., said its Wi-Fi isn't designed to function below 10,000 feet, largely because it connects via cell towers on the ground, rather than via satellites like its rivals. That means its airline clients, including Delta, AMR Corp.'s  American Airlines, US Airways Group Inc. and Alaska Air Group Inc.  will still be unable to offer Internet to their passengers during takeoffs and landings.

As expected, the new FAA guidelines still won't' allow passengers to use cellular phones to make phone calls, as in-flight cellular signals remain banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

But the FAA's policy shift encompasses basically everything that many passengers and manufacturers and marketers of devices wanted.

Noting that the previous rules have been in place largely unchanged for five decades, FAA chief Michael Huerta told reporters "the world has changed a lot" in that time and "I did feel it was important" to take a fresh look at the restrictions.

FAA officials estimated that perhaps on 1% of all flights, passengers may be asked to turn off devices below 10,000 feet to avoid potential interference with instrument-landing systems in low-visibility conditions

What won't change, according to the FAA, are announcements by flight attendants instructing passengers to stop reading or talking and listen to emergency evacuation procedures.


No comments:

Post a Comment