Will the U.S. government please make up its mind? The Federal Communications Commission is imploring the Federal Aviation Administration to allow use of mobile devices on planes during takeoffs and landings.
FCC Chairman Julius Genochowski sent a letter to the FAA last week urging the agency to allow travelers to keep their smartphones, laptops, tablets and e-readers on. Specifically, Genochowski said the FAA should "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices" during flights.
The letter was address to Michael Huerta, the acting FAA administrator. In it, Genochowski pointed to the importance of letting travelers use mobile devices on the aircraft because Americas are more reliant on the technology for both business and personal use.
"This review comes at a time of tremendous innovation, as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives," Genochowski wrote. "They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness."
The FAA's Long Review
The FAA was not immediately available for comment. But the FAA's stance is clear: The agency has implemented strict rules about travelers turning off mobile electronics during takeoff despite any proof that tablets or smartphones interfere with the airplane's navigation systems.
With pressuring mounting, the FAA in August said it would review its policy.
"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," Huerta said in a statement in August. "We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."
That was August. This is December and the policies regarding electronic devices during flight are still in place. The FAA released a study on cellphone use on planes in June. The conclusion: No non-US civil aviation authority reported any cases of air rage or flight attendant interference related to passengers using cellphones on aircraft equipped with on-board cellular telephone base stations.
"The non-US civil aviation authorities who have approved the installation of onboard cellular telephone base stations on aircraft reported that the aircraft with these installations undergo extensive analysis, functional tests, ground tests, and flight tests to demonstrate that the cellphones and base stations do not interfere with aircraft systems," the report said.
No More Excuses
The FCC's Web site lists its own ban on the use of cellular signals on airplanes. A statement on the site reads, "Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit the use of cellular phones using the 800 MHz frequency and other wireless devices on airborne aircraft. This ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground."
So, again, will the U.S. government please make up its mind?
We turned to Michael Disabato, managing vice president of Network and Telecom at Gartner, to get his take on the issue. He told us the FAA can no longer continue claiming the mobile devices interfere with navigation systems.
"Everybody is pointing at the two that are in the cockpit using mobile devices. They can't shut off their devices anymore because documentation they need is on the devices," Disabato. "The FAA is basically between a rock and a hard place because they have totally inconsistent message about why they don't want these devices used."