FAA could review how often tablets are used on airplanes

by Doug Drinkwater

March 19 2012

The Federal Aviation Administration will look into how tablets are used on-board
The Federal Aviation Administration will look into how tablets are used on-board

The New York Times’ Nick Bilton uncovers that the Federal Aviation Administration intends to look into the rule that tablets and other digital devices cannot be used for taxi, take-off or landing.

Bilton says that Laura J.Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the FAA, confirmed that the agency is now taking a “fresh look” at the usage of these personal electronic devices, to see if they can be used for a prolonged amount of time on airplanes. Should this plan be pursued, the next step of action would be for the FAA to test eReaders and tablets on planes. The last test was done in 2006, but tablets and eReaders were scarcely in existence at that point.

Brown revealed that the administration’s current rules allow airlines to request the use of electronic devices 'once the airline has demonstrated the devices would not interfere with aircraft avionics'.

 “With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft”, said Brown.

However, it may not be a straightforward road to green-lighting the use of eReaders and tablets on planes at all time, if the below comments from an aviation professional are anything to go by.

Abby Lunardini, VP of corporate communications at Virgin America, told The New York Times that the current guidelines stipulate that airlines much test each version of a single device before it can be approved by the FAA, meaning the first, second and third-generation iPads would need be tested on separate flights, each with no passengers on-board. The variety of aircraft also means that these same devices would have to be tested on different models to ensure they are safe and working.

Lunardini said that Virgin Media is eager to do these tests, but did say that it is “prohibitively expensive, especially for an airline with a relatively small fleet that is always in the air on commercial flights like ours.”

To back-up his call for continuous usage of tablets and eReaders on aircraft, Nick Bilton also cited some recent figures into interference from The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The organization’s most recent report counted 50 device-related issues towards the end of last year, but – according to Bilton – most of these centred on simple device issues, like overheating, rather than cockpit interference. 

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