The days of keeping the iPad or Kindle off while a commercial flight is under 10,000 feet could end if U.S. aviation authorities heed an advisory panel.
Airline passengers should be allowed to read e-books, send e-mail and browse websites throughout flights of Wi-Fi equipped planes, including during takeoff and landing, an advisory committee to the Federal Aviation Administration has concluded, a person familiar with panel’s work said today.
Mobile-phone calls and text messages would remain forbidden. They are separately banned over concerns the signals may interfere with ground networks.
Broader use of on-board electronics would help Gogo Inc. (GOGO), based in Itasca, Illinois, which says it has 82 percent of the inflight Wi-Fi service market in North America, and Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), which won preliminary regulatory clearance in May for an air-to-ground broadband service.
Gogo’s revenue comes from connection and usage charges, and the relaxed rules would allow passengers to use Wi-Fi services longer.
The advisory panel recommending relaxed rules finished its work Sept. 25. As is the case today, airlines would have to demonstrate to the FAA that each aircraft type can safely operate with passenger electronic devices turned on and in use.
The FAA said in a statement it would “determine next steps” after it receives the recommendation on Sept. 30. Les Dorr, an agency spokesman, in an e-mail declined to comment on the recommendations by the Portable Electronic Devices Advisory and Rulemaking Committee, a body chartered by the FAA in January.
Lawmakers, including Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, have said the FAA was moving too slowly to expand usage and threatened to force changes through legislation.
The FAA now prohibits use of personal electronic devices while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of portable recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electric shavers. The restrictions are intended to prevent interference with flight controls.
More access to gadgets makes for happier, calmer passengers, Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel analyst with Hudson Crossing LLC, said in an interview.
“The more distracted we are for work or entertainment, the less focused we are on the fact that legroom has shrunk, the amenities have disappeared,” Harteveldt said.
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