FAA issues Press Release on PEDs puts the Safety Issue in the hands of Flight Attendants

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Article: FAA to Allow Airlines to Expand Use of Personal Electronics

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The use of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) on board aircraft has been a high profile, contentious issue . Public pressure from consumers, manufacturers of PEDs, the FCC Chairman and a Senator was severe. . The technical proof, appropriately, will require the carrier to provide detailed extensive proof that all of the airplanes in its fleet can sustain interference from future PEDs. Once that expensive threshold is met, the brunt of enforcement of this safety rule will be placed on the flight attendants. Their union has endorsed the new approach to PEDs, but its press release is a far more realistic review of the consequences of the FAA’s acceptance of the ARC’s recommendations:

“AFA supports technical innovation, but our first priorities are the safety and security of flight, as they are for the FAA, other aviation stakeholders and the traveling public.

“In order to expand the use of PEDs safely, the commercial aviation industry must first demonstrate that airplanes can tolerate electromagnetic interference from passenger devices. AFA is a strong advocate for streamlining the testing and validation processes needed to demonstrate this capability, and requiring that airlines and manufacturers complete this work as quickly as possible on all passenger airplanes.

“At the same time, appropriate policies and procedures, supported by effective crew training programs and focused safety messaging from the industry to travelers, are needed to ensure that expanded use by passengers does not degrade safety and security. AFA encourages the FAA and industry to develop and quickly adopt uniform technical, operational, and training standards that will allow for the safe, managed expansion of PED usage by passengers.

“As the use of PEDs on aircraft expands in the future, AFA will work diligently alongside the FAA and industry to find creative, science-based approaches to ensure that passengers comply with the new operator policies and that their attention is not diverted from the important safety information provided by cabin crew during routine pre-flight briefings and unexpected emergencies, and that risks posed by loose items in the cabin are safely managed during the most critical portions of flight.”

The proof of technical, engineering compliance is a maze, a labyrinth filled with technical and operational traps. The ARC lists 26 recommendations. The process will require the airlines to provide detailed engineering analyses of their fleet to demonstrate that existing or modified systems cannot be interrupted under certain assumptions, such as FCC requirements and company rules about what a passenger may or may not do when the plane is in flight.

The issue of PED now devolves to the aircraft cabin. There professional flight attendants will have to exercise expert knowledge about the individual iPods/Pads, Kindles and Droids. These raise very significant issues, such as:

  • Will the flight attendants be able to interpret or enforce the rules imposed on them?
  • The icons or indicators of whether the PED is in “airplane” mode are so small that the flight attendants will not be able to visually confirm; the passengers’ word as to the PEDs’ status will have to be relied upon by these safety professionals.
  • Even Best Buy salesperson do not know which version of a PED has wireless capabilities; how with the cabin crew know?
  • As PED manufacturers create new products will they make identification easier?
  • Can someone innocently or malevolently modify a PED to increase the strength of its signals?
  • Will FAA cabin inspectors now go on board to determine compliance?
  • If problems are found, will the FAA begin enforcement proceedings against the airline?
  • Will the individual flight attendants be subject to enforcement (technically these professionals do not hold FAA certificates, but could the FAA allege that a level of failure to do their duties rises to trigger enforcement actions?
  • How about the passenger who lied about the status of their PED?
  • Should the FAA issue regulations with directive language which would impose compliance standards for individual adherence to the rule?

The issue of PED inflight use now has some technical parameters, which the carriers must meet. Delta has already submitted its proposed plan  The issue of how flight attendants and passengers will interact on compliance with the enforcement of these rules will be the true test of the efficacy of this safety provision. The likelihood of some Smart Alec creating problems is high given past experiences.

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