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FAA to allow gate-to-gate use of personal electronics

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it would expand approved use of mobile electronic devices like tablets and e-readers on airplanes. (Video: The Washington Post)

Above: The Federal Aviation Administration announced the rules change in a news conference.

[if gte mso 9]> use their tablets and other electronic devices from gate to gate, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday.

The agency said it has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of a flight, and it is providing airlines with guidance for implementation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said during a Thursday morning news conference.

Although implementation will vary among airlines, Huerta said the agency expects all carriers to prove they can safely allow the gate-to-gate use of personal devices by the end of the year. The change follows recommendations from an advisory group that issued its report last month.

Under the new regulations, passengers will be able to read e-books and watch videos on their devices without having to turn their devices off during takeoff and landing. Instead of having to turn cellphones off, passengers will be able to keep them on airplane mode, which prevents phones from being able to send or receive data, calls and text messages.

Phone calls remain banned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC had considered lifting the ban before opting in 2007 to leave the rules in place.

Electronic devices will still need to be held or put away during takeoff and landing, the agency said.

“We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers’ increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers, and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has also pushed for easing the restrictions, praised the FAA’s announcement as a win for travelers.

“This is great news for the traveling public — and frankly, a win for common sense,” said McCaskill, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on consumer protection. “I applaud the FAA for taking the necessary steps to change these outdated regulations, and I look forward to the airlines turning around quick plans for implementation.”

The decision was also celebrated by companies that sell these electronic devices. Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, was a member of the committee that advocated for changing the rules. The committee also included representatives from airlines, industry groups and aircraft manufacturers.

“We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years – testing an airplane packed full of Kindles, working with the FAA, and serving as the device manufacturer on this committee,” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement. “This is a big win for customers and, frankly, it’s about time.”

Passengers were also happy to hear about the decision. Kristopher Keating, a frequent traveler from Richmond, Va., said Thursday he has often chosen to travel by train because he gets more work done than when he flies.

“I would appreciate flying more if I could use my devices,” Keating said. “While I do appreciate downtime, it seems that the restriction during takeoff and landing are arbitrary and often ignored.”

The U.S. Travel Association praised the decision, saying that easing the prohibitions during takeoff and landing would make the traveler’s experience more enjoyable without interfering with safety or security.

“The travel community is grateful, because what’s good for the traveler is good for travel-related businesses and our economy,” Roger Dow, the association’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The Travel Technology Association, which represents the online travel industry, said easing the existing restrictions on domestic and international flights could boost productivity for traveling workers.

“The use of personal electronic devices such as laptop computers and smartphones is particularly, although not exclusively, important to business travelers, who value having the option to be productive while traveling,” said Steve Shur, the group’s president. “Leisure travelers value the choices presented by modern consumer technology—to watch a movie or show, read an e-book, play games, study or otherwise utilize their smartphones and tablets as they choose.”

Similarly, the Global Business Travel Association praised the change for giving business travelers more time to communicate with coworkers and customers.

GRAPHIC: No need to power down on planes

Here are the FAA’s top 10 things passengers should know about expanded use of a personal electronic device (PED) on airplanes:

1. Make safety your first priority.
2. Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
3.  Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval and changes its PED policy.
4. Cellphones may not be used for voice communications.
5. Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use.  You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, such as wireless keyboards.
6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.
7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crew member’s instructions.
8.  It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew’s instructions during takeoff and landing.
9.  In some instances of low visibility — about 1 percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.

This post has been updated.