Progress in PED debate—hopefully driven by Technical Safety Considerations

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ARTICLE: FAA to Relax Rules for Gadgets in Flight

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The Wall Street Journal’s respected writer, Andy Pasztor, has gained access to a draft report by the Aviation Rulemaking Committee assembled by the FAA to examine the safety of the usage of Personal Electronic Devices (cellphones, tablets, e-readers, laptops, etc.) on board aircraft. The headline and some of the text suggests that the ARC will recommend that the existing ban on use when the aircraft is below FL 10,000 should be modified.

Not found in the headline is that the public/private task force has asked for two more months to complete their work.

Query: if the group needs 60 more days to finish their tasks, how can there be a draft report? The Association of Flight Attendants, one of the organizations participating in the ARC, issued the following strongly worded statement:

“Any conclusions reached regarding a draft report by the ARC are premature. The Committee’s work is not yet completed and AFA will continue to review and comment on the draft document, which is expected to change significantly before final publication.
“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.
“The proposal to allow the use of PEDs during critical phases of flight still requires extensive review and safety testing, if recommended by the PED ARC and ultimately adopted by the FAA.”

As mentioned by the Flight Attendants, the issue of whether PEDs can impact the safe operation of aircraft is complex. What levels of electronic emissions affect the on board navigational and control systems? Does interference occur with one instrument with strong signals due to design/manufacturing standards and/or post sale intentional/unintentional alteration of the PED? How can airline personnel differentiate between acceptable/unacceptable instruments?

The ARC is attempting to address these technical and enforcement issues as noted here. A variety of sources have urged the FAA to decide this safety question on consumer preference issues.

Pasztor lifts the following quote from the draft report:

“’As the consumer electronics industry has exploded,’ the report says, ‘the FAA’s traditional stance of giving individual airlines leeway to evaluate the safety of specific devices before allowing them to remain on at low altitude ‘has become untenable.’ In practice, airlines follow the FAA’s guidance and slap a blanket prohibition on all devices until planes climb to 10,000 feet.’”

That captures the three primary dimensions of this debate—consumer demand, technical assessment and standards that can be implemented.

The author also quotes the draft report on the question of PEDs’ potential for creating problems:

“The draft report emphasizes that over the years, technical advances and stepped-up testing have contributed to building ‘much more tolerant’ aircraft, while devices have improved dramatically to use less power, transmit weaker signals and “stay within a tighter range of frequencies.’ The combined result, according to the document, is “much less potential to cause interference.’”

Hopefully, there are technical data supporting such conclusions and that there are PEDs capable of being distinguished into acceptable and unacceptable categories. The AFA statement makes it clear that safety will be honored.

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1 Comment on "Progress in PED debate—hopefully driven by Technical Safety Considerations"

  1. I commute every week to and from work. I see passengers constantly disobeying the rules by not turning off their PED’s. I believe the instruments that have been proven to be affected by PED usage should be more closely examined and repair those specific instruments rather than ban all PED’s.

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