Airline passengers may not have to turn off devices in the near future as regulators are set to allow wider use of electronic gadgets in flight. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes, allowing passengers leeway during taxiing and even takeoffs and landings, according to draft recommendations prepared by a high-level advisory panel to the agency.
For fliers, the new rules would likely mean an end to familiar admonitions to turn off and stow all electronic devices. Cell phone calls are expected to remain off limits. The draft doesn't make any recommendations regarding phone use because the FAA didn't authorize the panel to delve into that particularly controversial issue. Details are still being debated by the group and inside the FAA and could change. The draft report reflects a consensus that the existing rules, essentially unchanged since the 1960s, have been overtaken by dramatic changes in technology and passenger expectations.
The FAA's anticipated decision would relax the rules for use of approved devices from the time cabin doors close to when the plane reaches 10,000 feet. Some devices, such as e-readers, could even be used during all phases of a flight, if the FAA goes along with the thrust of the draft recommendations. The debate also has international ramifications, since rules for Wi-Fi systems and cell phone usage, vary among airlines and countries. Formed by the FAA last August, the 28-member panel includes industry, government and pilot-union representatives. Its findings have been eagerly awaited by airlines, regulators and safety experts around the world.