FAA to make flying less boring!

Posted: June 21, 2013 in Airport, Federal, Flying, Government, Parking, Travel
Tags: , , , , ,

That’s right, for once we’ve got news of air travel becoming more convenient instead of less. This is thanks to a recent study conducted by the FAA into updating and changing their policies on passenger electronic devices. The study found that the electronic device policy, which has remained virtually unchanged since 1966, was out of date (real shocker there). When the policy was put in place, there were concerns that the electromagnetic field of an electronic device could interfere with the planes equipment, particularly navigation and communication gear. But this has proven to be a mostly unfounded concern. There are virtually zero instances of personal electronics affecting a plane (one o the only cases I could find was a few years ago when a traveler’s blackberry was picking up air traffic communications while on the runway, and the traveler’s cellphone was subsequently bought from him by the airline to figure out how that happened), and modern electronics operate with much less power and on much tighter frequencies than they did fifty years ago, and the airplanes themselves are much better shielded against any kinds of electromagnetic forces or radiation that could impact their functioning. So it seems that this was an overblown fear, one which we can finally move past.

In fact, the FAA study found that one in three travelers had flown and forgotten to turn off an electronic device on at least one occasion. So if your cellphone was going to make a plane fall out of the sky, it would have happened by now. And that got to the root concern of the FAA study, that the policy was not only outdated, but that it damaged the public perception and credibility of the FAA. This rule, one which has been the frequent butt of jokes and which no one has seemingly been able to come up with a good justification for, made the FAA look outdated and like they didn’t know how to keep up with the pace of technology. And while that may not seem like a serious concern on the surface, that is anything but the truth of the matter. The FAA is a safety organization, and a lack of confidence in their decision-making process and in their rules causes fewer people to adhere to them. In the case of the electronic device policy, this has led at worst to some highly publicized drama with celebrities (looking at you Alec Baldwin), but there are a lot of rules that if not followed can have deadly consequences, ones that may not seem apparent on the surface. That’s why it’s so important that the FAA maintain at least some semblance of credibility with the public, because as it stands they’d look like a joke if it weren’t for the TSA being there to make the FAA look smart by comparison.

So what is the end result of this navel gazing by the FAA? Well, they will be changing the standards on electronic device use depending on the plane you are on. Some will be the same as now, the most out of date planes, and those will be few and far between. The bulk of flights will switch to allowing certain electronic devices to be used during taxiing and low altitude portions of the flight in addition to normal usage at cruising altitudes, and the final class of flight, the most modern aircraft, will allow full electronic device use. And the FAA says that there are plans to have 20,000 aircraft upgraded for full electronic device usage over the next few years.

There is one caveat to all of this though; cellphones aren’t part of the package. They are doing a separate study looking into cell phone usage and possible policy changes, but that one is much hairier and is going to take more time. Still, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t loosen restrictions at least somewhat for their use, and as soon as they do, you’ll hear about it here.


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