Senator Sends FAA a Message on Electronic Devices That Places Passenger Convenience Over Aviation Safety

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ARTICLE: McCaskill threatens legislation on airplane electronic device rules


The senior Senator from Missouri has been cited here with positive words on FAA spending, but her most recent pronouncement is befuddling. She seems to be telling the FAA that the ability of passengers to connect via electronic devices is more important than real safety concerns.

The FAA has announced a review of the TECHNICAL safety aspects associated with the use of PEDs, tablets, e~readers, laptops, e~games, etc. The announcement defined some of the parameters of the review; in addition to the possible interference from one to as many as 800 such devices with the airplanes’ critical navigational, communications and control systems (fly-by-wire connections), there is the difficult task of differentiating between acceptable electronic carry-ons and those with signals strong enough to cause disasters.

Senator McCaskill’s statement is almost internally illogical:

“We live in an increasingly connected world, and information is traveling at the speed it takes our email to refresh…The current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don’t make sense, and lack a scientific basisAirline employees have the incredibly important job of keeping us safe in the air — their efforts are better spent worrying about rules that actually accomplish that goal.”

As to her first italicized point, it would be interesting to see the Senator sponsor a revision to the FAA’s authorization in which the “inconvenience of the passenger” takes precedence over aviation safety. Perhaps the Chair of the FCC would support such a bill.

Her second italicized point belies her experience as a trial lawyer, for she assumes a fact not in evidence. The FAA’s notice defines a number of important issues that inquire about the science and engineering. The questions are known with certainty; the answers include some doubt. This is not just the opinion of the FAA, but has been confirmed by a team of independent scientists and engineers.

The last italicized statement borders on tautology. The airline employees enforce a relatively easy rule- NO use of these devices during critical phases of flight. One of the reasons why the FAA has initiated a process to create a regime that works is to try to avoid a TSA-like review of each electronic devise as the passenger boards the plane. The goal of the FAA process is to create a standard and a set of rules that allow the passenger agents and flight attendants to easily differentiate between safe and unsafe devices. It is far more likely that the consumer geniuses that create iPads and laptops can design some symbol that demonstrates that their instruments are safe, as defined by agreed upon standards.

It is obvious that Senator McCaskill’s statement will be positively reviewed by her consumer/constituents. It is possible that the technically sophisticated Missourians may remind their elected representative of the state’s motto, salus populi suprema lex esto or the welfare [not the convenience] of the people shall be the supreme law.

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