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FAA Could Ease Rules on In-Flight Electronic Devices

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel could recommend this week a softening of the rules that prohibit using the kind of electronic devices most Americans have a hard time shutting down when they get on an airplane.

Anyone who flies knows the drill even before they step on to a plane: Phones, computers and tablet devices must be shut down during landings and takeoffs until the plane reaches an altitude of 10,000 feet.  But that could change now that the advisory panel is finalizing guidelines for the FAA to help loosen those rules without compromising safety.

The guidelines are expected to allow e-books and other publications, including watching videos and listening to podcasts during takeoff and landing, The New York Times reported, citing anonymous panel members. Recommendations won’t include the use of cellphones to transmit data, make calls or use Wi-Fi.

There’s little doubt that the FAA is poised to make some changes, telling ABC News it “recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft.”

In other words, the FAA knows there’s no turning back the digital deluge.

The use of electronic devises has long been a contentious battle between passengers and the airline industry.  There’s little hard evidence that electronic devices cause any major problems in the air but manufacturers are adding shielding to protect navigational systems from electronic signals.  For example, Boeing is testing electronic devices in a quiet room to check for possible interference.

“These devices have the potential to interfere with airplane systems and airplane radios during flight,” Boeing cabin systems research and development engineer Kenny Kirchoff said.

But many passengers aren’t convinced their devices are a hazard. “I fly corporate aircraft a lot and we turn them on and there’s no technical problems,” Don Dibble said.

Some passengers like Heather Wagner forget to turn their gadgets off in the first place. “When I actually landed I went to turn it on and saw that is was on,” she said.

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