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Airport Takeoff/Landing Rule for Gadgets May Be Nuked by 4Q13

If you've flown on an airplane over the last decade or so, you've certainly scoffed at the silly rule that dictates you switch off all electronics during takeoff and landing. There really doesn't seem to be a need in doing so, especially if the device is set to airplane mode, which essentially turns off all radio-based input and output.

On the way back from CES 2013, a pilot riding standby next to me said there's no real reason why passengers must turn off their devices. The only valid reason he could think of was the amount of incoming and outgoing transmissions per plane that could possibly interfere with the tower. With around 200 passengers on board, that's a lot of incoming and outgoing signals for one vehicle. Now multiply that with the number of airplanes ready to land or takeoff.

But, even with the rule in place, many passengers ignore the request and place their device in silent or airplane mode (guilty). Although the overall input/output may be reduced, it's not going to be eliminated completely unless the airline actually confiscates every device like pieces of luggage. That, of course, would be suicide for an already stumbling airline industry.

"So it's O.K. to have iPads in the cockpit; it's O.K. for flight attendants — and they are not in a panic — yet it's not O.K. for the traveling public," said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. "A flying copy of 'War and Peace' is more dangerous than a Kindle."

The problem with the takeoff/landing electronics rule, which was established by the Federal Aviation Administration, is that the government has provided no real evidence that device use interferes with the plane's avionics. Because of this lack of evidence, an industry group set out last year to see if electronic gadget interference was just a myth.

Unfortunately, it looks as if phones will continue to be on the "off list" during arrival and departure, but consumers may discover by the end of the year that their tablets and other reading devices may be permitted to stay powered on. This industry group – which is made up of people from Amazon, Boeing and other aircraft makers, the CEA, FCC and others – plans to introduce its findings on July 31.

The New York Times has received one of the group's internal documents that describes its objectives, one of which ensures that flight attendants do not have to be the social police regarding devices. The group is also trying to determine what "airplane mode" actually means, and to make sure whatever new rules are adopted will be applied to devices not on the market today.

The FAA needs to update its rules for an age of wearable computers. As the paper points out, many passengers are flying with devices that track your daily activity. By the end of the year, they'll sport devices like Google Glass and possibly Apple's iWatch. The computer has moved beyond the desktop and notebook form factors.

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