Regular air passengers gave a collective ‘hurray!’ this month when the US’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)  said it would “take a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cell phones, on aircraft”.

All airlines ask passengers to turn off their electronic devices during take-off and landing for safety reasons, but it’s never been effectively communicated why this is necessary. Most people have a vague idea it is something to do with interference with the avionics, but the airlines and safety authorities have always been hazy on the specific evidence. The request has also become increasingly annoying as devices such as laptops, tablet computers and e-readers have become virtually ubiquitous.

The FAA, which regulates US airlines, told the New York Times earlier this month that new technology meant the rules will be re-examined. However, don’t expect any changes soon in Europe. According to Wired it could be a decade until European safety bodies consider changing the rules. The decision on whether a personal electronic device can be used during a flight has to be made on a European level by the European Aviation Safety Authority and then on a national by level each country’s aviation authority. Including actual physical testing of the device, that could take many years.

Not only that, but the authorities also have to consider whether or not their usage will affect passenger’s ability to pay attention to things like safety briefings. Should the rules even be changed if they compromise safety in any way? Can people really not afford to be look away from their gadgets for 20 minutes? Surely it’s better to be safe in the air than on the next level of Angry Birds or the next chapter of a Stieg Larsson novel.


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