On August 28, 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its Request for Comments on several issues associated with the agency's reexamination of the rules governing portable electronic devices (PEDs) carried by commercial airline passengers. Currently, the FAA rules generally leave it up to the airlines to determine which PEDs may be operated aboard commercial aircraft and when. Nearly all airlines prohibit the operation of most PEDs during critical flight stages as aircraft take off and climb to more than 10,000 feet or descend below 10,000 feet in preparation for landing.

The FAA has requested comments on several issues including:

  • Operational, safety and security challenges associated with expanding PED use.
  • Data sharing between aircraft operators and manufacturers to facilitate authorization of PED use.
  • Necessity of changes in certification regulations requiring new aircraft designs to tolerate PED emissions.
  • Information-sharing for manufacturers who already have proven PED and aircraft system compatibility to provide information to operators for new and modified aircraft.
  • Development of consumer electronics industry standards for aircraftfriendly PEDs or aircraft-compatible modes of operation.
  • Required publication of aircraft operators' PED policies.
  • Restriction of PED use during takeoff, landing and during safety briefings to avoid distracting passengers and prevent possible injury to passengers.
  • Development of standards for systems that actively detect potentially hazardous PED emissions.
  • Technical challenges associated with further PED usage and support from PED manufacturers to commercial aircraft operators.

Notably, the FAA press release says that the committee "will not consider the airborne use of cell phones for voice communications during flight." However, the Request for Comments asks whether "voice communications using other technologies such as voice over IP be limited or restricted." Comments are due 60 days after publication of the Request for Comments in the Federal Register.

Once the FAA receives public comments, it proposes to establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which will include representatives from the mobile device and the aviation industries, pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines and passenger associations. The committee will be tasked with reviewing the record and advising the agency on recommendations that could lead to more widespread use of PEDs during flight. The FAA noted that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be a “key partner” in the effort. FCC Chairman Genachowski has said that he “strongly supports the effort and looks forward to working with the FAA.”

The FAA's Request for Comments is available here.