FAA to Relax Rules for Laptops, Tablets During Flight

“Please turn off all electronic and digital devices, including cell phones, laptops, and tablets as the plane prepares to take off…”

That’s the familiar mantra travelers hear and abide by whenever a plane is under 10,000 feet, which includes taxing, taking off, and landing. But now the Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes. This would mean that passengers could even use their electronics during taxiing and takeoffs and landings, though cellphone calls are expected to remain off limits.

Industry officials and a high-level advisory panel to the FAA are still debating the decision, but there seems to be a consensus that times have changed. Passengers are still abiding by rules set in the 1960s, and technology in both planes and personal electronic devices has been greatly advanced in recent years. As the article states:

The original rules, written in 1966, took shape in an era when experts feared electromagnetic interference could wreak havoc with critical navigation systems and radios aboard aircraft. During the years leading up to this latest review, the FAA called on the industry to conduct four separate safety studies and ended up adopting the broad policy that personal electronics pose minimal risk at higher altitudes.

The current draft doesn’t mention a change for cellphones, but the panel intends “to provide a separate addendum” that the FAA “may or may not address.” Concerns include varying cellular signals’ affect on equipment, if making or receiving calls during a flight could create a safety risk during an emergency, and if mobile phone calls are simply annoying to other passengers.

The FAA isn’t likely to make a formal decision on any of these points until after it receives the final version of the advisory panel’s study, which has been delayed to the end of September. The FAA formed this 28-member panel last August, and it includes industry, government and pilot-union representatives. You can watch the WSJ’s follow up report below.