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FAA and Passenger Electronics Use

On August 28 CNN reported:

Will the familiar warning for airline passengers to "discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices" become a relic of the past?


By popular demand, the Federal Aviation Administration is forming a group to study policies governing the use of consumer electronics in the sky.

The review could lead to increased use of iPads, portable DVD players and other consumer electronics in aircraft cabins.

Note that the issue here is electronics other than cell phones. Use of cell phones in aircraft is banned by FCC because at high altitudes a cell phone will “see” and impact many cell sites. Thus it will use a large amount of cellular capacity.

FCC did consider allowing femtocell-like base stations in aircraft in Docket 04-435 , but rejected the idea after a tsunami of consumer opposition about the social impact of having someone in the next seat talking loudly (since cell phones have little or no sidetone to given user feedback on appropriate speech level).

Older readers will recall that until about 20 years ago FAA forbid all cell phone use on aircraft, even when the plane was stopped on the runway. FAA wraps itself in its “safety culture” and in pandering to its constituency, e.g. ATA (now actually A4A) and AOPA - but not the general public - to be as unaccountable as possible in some decisions. (Amusingly, FAA staffers routinely criticize FCC for being too close to its constituency.)

The oral traditional about the change about 20 years ago was that a key member of Congress with oversight authority over FAA was trapped on a plane at DCA’s runway for 2 hours without being able to use his cell phone. When he got back to his office he summoned the FAA Administrator and demanded a justification for the then existing rule on no cell phone use ever in aircraft. When the FAA Administrator finally demanded from his middle managers an explanation, he saw he “had no cards” and the present policy of limited cell phone use on the runway was quickly adopted.

As a service to SpectrumTalk readers, here is a link to the actual FAA “ Notice of policy; request for comments” on Passenger Use of Portable Electronic Devices on Board Aircraft .

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before October 30, 2012

Note that this document states “The FCC will be a key partner in this activity working collaboratively with the FAA, airlines, and the manufacturers to explore broader use of PEDS in flight.” I would like to believe this is true, but as someone with 2 awards from the FAA Administrator for helping FAA resolve critical safety problems, this statement does not ring true. Also, the inability of the FAA spokesman at the FCC Receiver workshop in March to even mentioned the longstanding FM/ILS disagreement between the 2 agencies shows that bilateral collegiality has a long way to go between these agencies. NTIA continues to turn a blind eye to such issues.
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