FAA to study smartphone use while in-flight calls still prohibited

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will consider permitting more widespread use of smartphones and other portable electronic devices during flights, while still ruling out voice calls.


A government industry group will be formed to review current policies, technological standards and test methods and make recommendations to the FAA, the Agency said recently in a press release.


"We are looking for information to help airlines and operators decide if you can allow a wider use of electronic devices in aircraft today," said Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the FAA, in the press.


The Working Group will be established in the coming months and will meet for six months before making recommendations. The group does not consider allowing the use of mobile phones for voice communications during the flight, said the Agency.


Many airlines offer Wi-Fi signals when aircraft are at cruising speed and new policies could allow business travelers working as the aircraft climb and descend, adding about 40 minutes of his productive time, Kevin Mitchell, President of the Business Travel Coalition, a group of trade for corporate travel managers, said in an interview.


"It is a good thing," said Mitchell, whose trade group is based in Radnor, Pennsylvania. "Pilots using iPads during takeoff and taxi, so why should not we see if passengers can?"


FAA regulations require airlines to determine that the interference of radio frequency by electronic devices will not affect the avionics of the aircraft before allowing them to be used during certain phases of flight, which a few has been willing to do.


"The safety of our passengers and crew remains our priority and our members will work in cooperation with the FAA on opportunities to evaluate personal electronic devices to ensure that customers can use these products safely during the flight," said Steve Lott, a spokesman for American Airlines, in an email. Members of the trade group based in Washington include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. of AMR Corp.


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


"This is a topic of interest of consumers," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees the FAA, said in the press. "We must establish appropriate standards as we help the industry to consider when passengers can use new technologies safely during a flight".

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