FAA eases rules for electronics
November 01, 2013 10:35 AM

WASHINGTON — The days of airline passengers being hounded to turn off their tablets or e-readers for takeoff and landing are coming to an end.

On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that passengers would be able to use electronic devices to listen to music, read and play games in all phases of flight, although the ban on using cellphones to talk and text will remain.

The normally conservative FAA moved with unexpected speed in changing its policy, after an advisory committee recommended it a month ago, and the agency won unusually broad praise from pilots, flight attendants and members of Congress, along with passengers.

The changes will most likely take effect before the end of the year, the FAA said, after airlines determine that their aircraft can tolerate the interference.

Passengers will still be prohibited from browsing the Web and checking email once the plane’s doors have been closed and until its Wi-Fi network has been turned on, usually above 10,000 feet.

The administrator of the FAA, Michael P. Huerta, said he expected that, with rare exceptions, airlines would allow the use of tablets, MP3 players and smartphones in “airplane mode,” with their cell network connections turned off. The airlines will have to conduct tests on their equipment and submit the results to the FAA for approval, he said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport, outside Washington.

Soon after Huerta spoke, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue announced that they had submitted plans for passengers to use electronics in flight. JetBlue also planned to introduce a high-capacity Wi-Fi service by the end of the year that may work at lower altitudes, said a spokeswoman, Jennifer Dervin.

The rule banning use of personal electronic devices during some parts of the flight had become an increasing source of frustration for passengers who saw it as outdated in a technology-dependent age, a point that Huerta acknowledged.

Huerta stressed that passengers would be told to turn off their electronics when the flight attendants give preflight safety briefings about what to do in an emergency, and that the airlines would have to develop new rules about stowing electronics during takeoff and landing.

He also noted that change would not be universal. “In some instances of low visibility, 1 percent of flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference,” he said. “In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off personal electronic devices.”

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