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Air authority to rethink gadget use on planes

E-book reading to be permitted during take-off and landing?

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Good news, frequent flyers: the US Federal Aviation Administration is to once again assess whether gadget owners should be allowed to use their tech toys throughout flights, not just when their aircraft is up in the Big Blue.

“The FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices on aircraft,” the agency told the New York Times newspaper.

Any move to allow the use of gadgets during taxi, take-off and landing will involve testing them to ensure they don't interfere with aircraft avionics systems, not that there's much in the way of compelling evidence that they, or other consumer electronics devices, do.

Many instanced in which interference from passengers' devices has been implicated in flight problems it has simply been because pilots have voiced their suspcions that this was the case. Few if any pilots have been able to prove that this was so.

That said, We could have reached this stage already, but the onus of testing kit has thus far laid with the airlines, who, because of the cost of doing so, have declined to perform the necessary tests. They say they have to test every version of a given product, and that makes the process too pricey.

The FAA's comments suggest that airlines will still have to take a lead, but its "fresh look" will involve bringing in manufacturers too to see whether there's a way all parties can co-operate to reduce the cost to each.

Even then, the endeavour will initially focus on e-book readers and tablets, but not smartphones. Laptop users will hope that their favoured kit gets included too.

The irony is that many flights are essentially device tests because of the high statistical likelihood that at least one passenger has left a gadget on during taxi, take-off or landing, deliberately or not.

Then there are devices like e-book readers which can't be readily turned off anyway. Most folk simply put them to sleep, assuming that has turned them off. It hasn't - it has simply kicked in the screensaver. ®

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