The Circuit: FAA considers relaxing in-flight gadget rules.

Aviation authorities in the United States and Britain are considering a recommendation that passengers be allowed to use their electronic gadgets throughout a flight.

A report from an advisory panel set up by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US has said that restrictions should be relaxed on the use of mobile phones, tablets, e-readers and laptops. It found that there was no longer any scientific/operational reason for ordering they be switched off during taxi, take-off and landing.

If the FAA accepts the recommendation, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority will be pressed to follow it.

A spokesman for the CAA said: “We will obviously be paying very close attention to the panel’s report [which has not yet been made fully public] and to what the FAA has to say about its findings. We keep all of our regulations under review to ensure our rules are up to date and based on the latest understanding of potential risks.”

He added that the panel was unlikely to suggest that mobile phone calls or text messaging be permitted, unless an aircraft has been equipped with an approved system to allow them, but rather that the use of other electronic gadgets was unrestricted.

Current regulations in Britain are set out by both the CAA and the European Union. The former states that all transmitting portable electronic devices (T-PEDs) should be switched off for taxi, take-off and landing, due to fears over possible interference with aircraft operations. Their use is allowed only during the “cruise phase” – generally when the aircraft is above 10,000ft.

“The cumulative effect of a large number of mobile phones or T-PEDs being used simultaneously… particularly during the critical phases of flight, such as take-off and landing, remains a serious concern,” the CAA says on its website.

In 2011 a study by the International Air Transport Association, which was leaked, detailed 75 in-flight incidents over six years where use of gadgets and mobile phones might have been responsible. In one case study, an aircraft’s auto pilot disengaged itself at 4,500 feet, causing critical warning lights to appear. Flight attendants subsequently found one passenger using a mobile and three using iPods.

But the FAA committee’s findings could force authorities to reconsider, particularly with regards to use of gadgets other than mobile phones.

Paul Misener, an Amazon executive and a member of the panel, told The Wall Street Journal that modern airline fleets had “dramatically improved”, and that aircraft are now “resilient” to electronic interference. He added that the committee had concluded that “gate-to-gate” use of electronic devices was safe, and that only ground-based mobile network connections – whether used for voice calls, text messaging or data – should remain off-limits.

If the panel’s recommendations are followed, passengers could be allowed to access email and the internet at all times, using – where available – a plane’s on-board Wi-Fi system (for which there is usually a hefty fee), but not their own mobile network. Use of laptops, e-readers, iPads and other devices could be permitted during taxi, take-off and landing, as long as they are not connected to a ground-based network.

Potential barriers remain, however. Some have suggested that relaxing the rules could lead to confusion or arguments among passengers and cabin crew about whether devices are in the safe “flight mode” or whether they are using the on-board Wi-Fi or a ground-based network.

A poll conducted earlier this year by the website suggested that one in five British fliers already ignore the rules. The most common misdemeanour perpetrated by passengers was turning their phone on immediately after landing, rather than when the aircraft doors have been opened, and failing to switch their device off during take-off.

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