The Beginnings of Good News (Sanity in Air Travel Division)

Well, it’s a start:

Airline passengers irritated at having to turn off their devices could soon see some reprieve, with regulators set to allow wider use of gadgets in flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes, allowing passengers leeway during taxiing and even takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials and draft recommendations prepared by a high-level advisory panel to the agency.

For fliers, the new rules would likely mean an end to familiar admonitions to turn off and stow all electronic devices. Cellphone calls are expected to remain off limits, however. The draft doesn’t make any recommendations regarding phone use because the FAA didn’t authorize the panel to delve into that particularly controversial area.

Details are still being debated by the group and inside the FAA and could change. Still, the draft report reflects a consensus that the existing rules, essentially unchanged since the 1960s, have been overtaken by dramatic changes in technology and passenger expectations.

“As the consumer electronics industry has exploded,” the report says, the FAA’s traditional stance of giving individual airlines leeway to evaluate the safety of specific devices before allowing them to remain on at low altitude “has become untenable.” In practice, airlines follow the FAA’s guidance and slap a blanket prohibition on all devices until planes climb to 10,000 feet.

The FAA may be forced to act due to the sheer number of passengers flouting today’s rules. The experts who wrote the draft referred to recent industry research showing that nearly one-third of passengers reported that, at least once, they accidentally left some device on throughout a flight.

And yet, no planes have crashed despite passengers accidentally leaving on any devices. Imagine that.

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