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Electronics Use Limits on Planes Seen Easing at U.S. FAA

Easing Electronics Use on Planes Seen by U.S. Advisory Panel
A passenger checks his cell phone before he disembarks at the Long Beach, California airport. Photographer: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Broader in-flight use of electronics including Apple Inc. iPhones and Inc. Kindle readers may be possible, a panel advising U.S. aviation regulators says in a draft report that stops short of calling for ending current restrictions, according to three people familiar with its work.

The Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee’s recommendations still aren’t final and must be approved by the FAA. The agency must consider potential interference from electronic signals and how to deal with safety issues associated with having scores of metal devices loose during a crash landing, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the committee’s work.

On June 20, the agency gave the panel two extra months to complete its report, making it due in September.

“The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft,” the agency said in a statement. “That is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions.”

Calls to allow broader use of e-readers and smartphones on airliners have grown as lawmakers, including Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, have pressed for the change.

A survey of airline passengers by groups including the Consumer Electronics Association, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group, showed four in 10 wanted to use the personal devices during landings and takeoffs. Airlines now prohibit their use at altitudes below 10,000 feet.

Modern Aircraft

Almost a third -- 30 percent -- of passengers in the same poll said that they had accidentally left a device turned on during periods when use was prohibited.

The aviation rulemaking committee, chartered last year by the FAA, won’t recommend allowing in-flight mobile-phone calls, the people said. The Federal Communications Commission bans such phone use because at higher altitudes, the signals can interfere with ground towers in cellular networks.

The committee believes that more modern aircraft are better protected against interference from signals emitted by electronic devices, the people said.

Airlines may perform tests to show that use of personal devices during all phases of flight is safe, the people said. The report will outline how such tests can be done, they said.

Tests of device use at lower altitudes, when flights are at higher risk of an accident, would be more rigorous, one of the people said.

Many devices broadcast radio signals on multiple frequencies, such as on Wi-Fi and mobile-phone wavelengths, and have been shown to interfere with aircraft electronics in lab tests, according to tests by Boeing Co., the world’s biggest plane maker, and the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority.

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