U.S. considers expanding tablet, e-reader use on flights

Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:54pm EDT
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By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK, Sept 30 (Reuters) - U.S. aviation regulators began considering on Monday how to let airplane passengers make greater use of laptops, tablets and e-readers on board, while still ensuring the devices don't compromise flight safety.

The suggestions, contained in a long-awaited report, are a hot-button issue for passengers, many of whom have chafed under strict rules that require portable electronic devices be turned off for takeoff and landing.

Some passengers fear their devices will imperil a flight by disrupting navigation or radio signals. Others consider the risks remote and leave devices on during those critical phases of flight when planes are most prone to accidents.

The report by an industry-government committee recommends allowing tablets and e-readers to remain on at altitudes below 10,000 feet on newer planes that are designed to resist electronic interference, but says larger devices such as laptops or DVD players should still be stowed for takeoff and landing so they don't pose a physical hazard, according to people familiar with the matter.

There are no recommendations to alter the devices themselves; however, older aircraft may need further checks to ensure they won't be affected by interference, these people said. Personal cell phone calls weren't considered by the committee, and would still be banned during flights.

The recommendations arose amid intense interest from the public and some members of Congress, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last year to set up a committee to recommend how the rules should change.

The committee began work in January aiming to conclude in six months. In July it got a two-month extension to come up with guidance on how airlines can assess the safety risks posed to critical flight systems and develop a policy on stowing devices that would work with expanded use of the devices.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta "will review the report and determine next steps," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said Monday.   Continued...