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FAA mulls scrapping in-flight iPad, Kindle ban

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The FAA is planning a "fresh look" at the use of gadgets during take off and landing, reasoning that if pilots are using them then it's probably OK for passengers too.

Talking to the New York Times, the US Federal Aviation Authority said it was bored of waiting for airlines to take the initiative in testing whether electronics really can knock out flight instruments. It said a fresh look at the issue was necessary as the public was struggling to understand why they had to keep turning off Kindles and iPads at the start and end of every flight.

Airlines can allow customers to use electronics on the plane, even during takeoff and landing, but each piece of technology has to be tested fully. Anyone lucky enough to fly Virgin Upper Class will know the in-flight entertainment system is suitably tested so one doesn't have to stop watching as the destination approaches. Upper Class passengers are also allowed to use Bluetooth devices in-flight (you get a better class of Bluetooth hardware at the front of the plane, obviously).

But testing every consumer device would be extremely expensive, especially as every device would have to be tested with every model of plane, so the process could only be economical if airlines pooled resources, but critically they have little or no incentive to do so.

Making passengers turn everything off at takeoff and landing is simple, even if it can make them a little fractious at times. It also alerts passengers that the landing is imminent and gets the tech-heavy flyer with the short attention span reading the in-flight magazine too, so there's nothing to be gained by letting them use an iPad instead.

Which is why the FAA wants to get involved. The regulator has already paved the way for in-flight mobile telephones, creating a technical framework within which in-flight calling is safe and leaving it to the airlines to decide if it's worth offering the service. Something similar might work for in this instance, but even if it does it's going to take years so we'll still need paper books for a while yet. ®

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