The Federal Aviation Administration appears ready to ease the restrictions on using electronic devices during airline flights. It’s a welcome move.
Like electronic devices, the FAA’s ban on tablets, laptops, iPods and smartphones and other gadgets should have evolved. The FAA has not moved much past Version 1.0, adopted more than two decades ago.
The ban on electronic devices was originally put in place because it was not known if the signals from those devices would cause problems with flying the aircraft. The thinking was that it was better to be safe than sorry.
An FAA fact sheet issued in 2009 said this about the use of devices and cellphones: “There are still unknowns about the radio signals that portable electronic devices (PEDs) and cellphones give off. These signals, especially in large quantities and emitted over a long time, may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment.”
Given the ban has been in place since 1991, it is impossible to believe every person flying has followed the rules and turned off every electronic device. Laptops and iPods have been used. Cellphones have been left on — perhaps during the duration of a flight — with apparently no problems.
If signals from cell towers and the Internet were powerful enough to bring down a plane, it would have been tried before a shoe bomb.
Still, we understand that air safety is serious business. Caution should be used and it is appreciated.
Nevertheless, it is time to loosen up a bit. Airline customers have been complaining for years about the tight restrictions.
So the FAA has relented and agreed to consider relaxing the rules. A committee looking at the issues is expected to finish assessing whether it’s safe to lift restrictions by September.
The ban on electronic devices will not include lifting the restrictions on cellphone calls, Internet use and transmission. The FAA and the airline industry remain skittish on the issue.
While this seems a bit overcautious, keeping the cellphone call ban in place for now isn’t necessarily bad. Having a plane full of people jabbering on their cellphones could be very irritating.
The FAA is taking it one step at a time, and that’s good enough for now. Easing the ban on the use of all electronic devices is the right direction.