FAA Is Reconsidering Rules On Electronic Devices

As pretty much everyone knows, the FAA has an archaic rule that anytime the plane is moving and is under 10,000′, anything with an on-off switch must be turned off. Oh, except for voice recorders and electric shavers… and pilots’ iPads. The truth is that the rule makes no sense, but no one knows why it’s in place to begin with and they’re afraid of what will happen if they change it and then a plane crashes; so the FAA employees figure annoying millions of passengers daily is preferable to them losing their jobs. In late 2011, both The New York Times and The Atlantic took up the noble cause of freeing us from the shackles of air travel Ludditism, but neither of them caused as big of a stir as Alec Baldwin’s not-so-silent protest on the matter. Regardless of which of them was the catalyst, something got the FAA’s attention, because it is now working on making some tablet devices kosher for all phases of flight.

The facts are these: in order for a device to be approved under 10,000′, the airline has to test it and submit the results to the FAA. This is a pretty expensive process, so the all-but-bankrupt airlines don’t do it (except for the pilots’ iPads, since having access to flight manuals electronically is a clear benefit). The FAA, probably realizing that in the age of Kindles and iPads, they’re about to become the TSA’s slightly-less-ugly cousin — or maybe out of fear of drawing Alec Baldwin’s anger — decided to take matters into their own hands and test the devices themselves.

After the monetary cost, the next problem to tackle is the FAA’s own ridiculous rules: classes of devices cannot be approved, but rather only specific models. So the iPad has to be approved, then the iPad2, the new iPad, the Kindle 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, the Nook 1 and 2, and any other devices which might be popular. They have to test each of these models of tablet on each of the models of plane on each of the airlines. Given 10 kinds of tablets, 10 kinds of planes and 10 airlines — numbers lower than reality — that means 1,000 separate approvals. Because of this, they’re not even going to try to approve smartphones, of which Samsung alone makes 53 different types of Android phones. Thank your lucky stars the Android tablets never took off, because then even iPads wouldn’t make the cut. But if all goes well, in the next year or two, we could be listening to Brahms while reading the digital version of The New Yorker as the plane takes off.

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From The New York Times, via Slashdot

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