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FAA to Study Smartphone Use While In-Flight Calls Banned

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will study whether to allow more widespread use of smartphones and other portable electronic devices during flights, while ruling out voice calls.

A government-industry group will be formed to review current policies, testing methods and technological standards and will make recommendations to the FAA, the agency said today in a news release.

“We’re looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft,” Michael Huerta, acting FAA administrator, said in the release.

The working group is to be established in the coming months and will meet for six months before making recommendations. The group won’t consider allowing the use of mobile phones for voice communications during flight, the agency said.

Many airlines offer Wi-Fi signals when planes are cruising, and new policies could let business travelers work as aircraft ascend and descend, adding about 40 minutes to their productive time, Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, a trade group for corporate travel managers, said in an interview.

“It’s a good thing,” said Mitchell, whose trade group is based in Radnor, Pennsylvania. “The pilots use iPads during taxi and takeoff, so why shouldn’t we see if passengers can?”

Safety First

FAA regulations require airlines to determine that radio-frequency interference from electronic devices won’t affect a plane’s avionics before allowing them to be used during certain phases of flight, testing few have been willing to do.

“The safety of our passengers and crews remains our top priority and our members will work cooperatively with the FAA on opportunities to evaluate personal electronic devices to ensure customers can use these products safely during flight,” Steve Lott, a spokesman for Airlines for America, said in an e-mail. Members of the Washington-based trade group include AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc.

Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit airborne use of phones to protect wireless devices on the ground, and the FAA regulates use of mobile devices to prevent interference with aircraft navigation and communications systems, according to the FCC’s website.

“This is an issue of consumer interest,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who supervises the FAA, said in the release. “We must set appropriate standards as we help the industry consider when passengers can use the latest technologies safely during a flight.”

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