FAA To Let Video Fly Higher, Longer

Loosens Restrictions on In-Flight PED Use for Video, Data Processing, Gaming

The Federal Aviation Administration has decided to expand the allowable on-board use of portable electronic devices (PED) for work and pleasure — including video viewing — though still not for phone calls.

It is phasing-in the use of tablets, smart phones and other portable electronic devices inflight, allowing use in airplane mode essentially gate-to-gate, subject to a phase in by the airlines, which Oct. 31 got the new guidelines, the FAA said.

"Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions," the FAA said, adding it expected many carriers to have proved that their planes can safely allow passengers to use the devices by the end of the year.

The PED's will still have to be turned off at the discretion of the captain for things like low-visibility landings (FAA estimates those at only about 1% of landings), and smart phones can be used to watch video but not make phone calls due to FCC regs that prohibit making cell phone calls on planes in flight.

"We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumer's 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."

The change will not be immediate and will vary by airline. Here are some consumer tips from the FCC on the new guidelines.

Because of their relative heft, laptops will still need to be stowed during takeoffs and landings.

"I am pleased that the FAA's Portable Electronic Devices Aviation Rulemaking Committee has released its report," said acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. "Today, consumers expect to use their wireless devices everywhere, and at all times. Over the past year, the FCC has taken a number of specific actions to improve the ability of consumers to use their Wi-Fi-enabled devices aboard aircraft, and we are continuing to examine how best to promote consumers' and businesses' ability to use wireless devices both aboard aircraft and elsewhere."

"Today's announcement from the Federal Aviation Administration represents real progress," said FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel. "Senator [Claire] McCaskill deserves enormous credit for her advocacy for this commonsense rule.  The FAA likewise deserves credit for its efforts to permit greater use of personal electronic devices during flight without harming public safety."

"I held the FAA's feet to the fire to move quickly and responsibly and it has now delivered," McCaskill said Thursday on news of the new FCC guidelines. "I expect the airlines, as key partner stakeholders who helped produce the recommendations to relax current restrictions, to move quickly so that Americans flying for the holidays no longer face restrictions that make no sense."

Rosenworcel's former boss, Sen. Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.) added a note of caution.

"Having access to e-mail or a movie is not worth compromising the safety of any flight. While today's ruling is an added convenience for consumers, we must keep in mind that safety is always our foremost concern when making improvements to the passenger experience on flights," Rockefeller said following teh announcement. "I'm confident the FAA will conduct exhaustive oversight of the entire process, and I expect the airlines to conduct thorough assessments on their fleets before they let passengers use electronic devices."

Not surprisingly, the Consumer Electronics Association, whose members make all those PEDs and helped come up with the FAA guidelines, was celebrating the news.

"CEA commends the FAA for implementing a comprehensive process and soliciting input from a broad array of stakeholders to develop these safety-based guidelines," said CEA president Gary Shapiro in a statement. "This decision will bring policy on in-flight use of devices up to speed with the 21st century and allow passengers to continue to use their consumer electronics — including tablets, laptops and smartphones — for their work and leisure activities without significant interruptions for takeoff and landing.