published Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

FAA to review electronics ban

Many passengers, both frequent and not-so-frequent fliers, agree that travel by air is hassle these days. Chief among the complaints are crowded airports, sharply reduced flight schedules, rising costs, security screening procedures and the location, availability and cost of parking. All that's before you board a plane. To that list, many would add the warning passengers must "discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices" before takeoff. It is possible, though, that the warning will become obsolete in the future.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which governs the use of the devices, has agreed to study rules governing their use. The review could lead to approval to use iPads, portable DVD players and some other devices in aircraft cabins during flight. Don't expect a quick decision, though. The FAA, after all, is a bureaucracy and the review is expected to take time.

Members of the study group, to be comprised of airplane manufacturers, representatives of technology companies, airline officials, passenger association members and pilots and flight attendants, have not been named yet. When they are, the group will meet for at least six months before offering advice. It could be longer. Similar panels have taken a year to make suggestions.

The panel won't address the use of cell phones for in-flight communication. That's not within its purview. Phones are governed by the Federal Communications Commission, which has not said when or if it will take up the topic.

In the early days of electronic devices, the FAA probably was correct to ban them for fear that they could interfere with a plane's own electronics. Now, many such devices operate without such interference. Some but not all airlines, in fact, allow passengers to use some devices and many pilots routinely use laptops and iPads in flight. No wonder passengers are confused and even angered by current rules.

A comprehensive review can help end such confusion and suggest electronic-use policies that balance safety with the needs and demands of consumers. There's no reason to dawdle. The FAA should name panel members promptly and then put them to work.

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