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F.A.A. May Relax Electronics Restrictions on "Reading Devices" This Year

By Wesley Fenlon

Regulations on Kindles and tablets could be loosened by year's end, but don't expect to use your cellphone during takeoff.

F.A.A. regulations on electronics have always seemed to follow a very loose, very scientific old adage: Better safe than sorry. There's never been much in the way of proof that Kindles or GameBoys or MP3 players affect the sensitive electronics of an airplane, but that hasn't stopped them from insisting that passengers turn off everything for takeoff. Now that blanket ruling from the F.A.A. might be changing--but not on the scale most people would like to see.

Photo credit: Jetstar Airways

According to the New York Times, insiders say "the agency hopes to announce by the end of this year that it will relax the rules for reading devices during takeoff and landing. The change would not include cellphones." The new ruling, if it comes to pass, would allow passengers to put reading devices in airplane mode rather than turning them off. "Reading devices" presumably covers Kindles and other tablets like iPads, but doesn't mean smartphones. We wouldn't be surprised if the rule fails to make a distinction between tablets with built-in 3G radios and those without.

Defining what "airplane mode" should entail would allow for more general guidelines with different types of devices.

The F.A.A. has obviously been under pressure to change its electronics rulings for years, and the Times reports that the agency has been working on the issue with a number of associations including Boeing, the F.C.C., and Amazon, since last year. They're expected to unveil their findings by July 31st.

Senator Claire McCaskill plans to introduce legislation to update electronic rulings if the F.A.A. doesn't move quickly enough. Ideally, the F.A.A. will institute a broad set of rules that will apply to future devices as well as current electronics on the market. They'll also be determining what, exactly, "airplane mode" should entail, which will hopefully allow for more general guidelines with different types of devices. But if the ruling allows for Kindles and not for cellphones, few passengers will be satisfied unless the F.A.A. makes a stronger case for cellular signals interfering with airplanes. Better safe than sorry isn't going to last much longer.