Feeds

Senator threatens FAA with legislation over in-flight fondleslabbing

Highlights double standards over aircraft electronics

High performance access to file storage

US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has written to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asking for a rethink of the rules governing the use of in-flight electronics, and has threatened legislation if the agency won't shift its position.

"We live in an increasingly connected world, and information is traveling at the speed it takes our email to refresh," McCaskill said in an open letter to Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the FAA.

"The current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don't make sense, and lack a scientific basis. Airline employees have the incredibly important job of keeping us safe in the air – their efforts are better spent worrying about rules that actually accomplish that goal."

McCaskill, who serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that oversees many aviation rules, pointed out that the FAA has already certified iPads for use by pilots at all stages of the flight. The decision in September will save an estimated $1.2m, and stop considerable back problems for pilots by relieving them of the 35lb of manuals they usually have to carry.

Although the FAA announced a review of its current policy in August (the last one was back in 2004), McCaskill said she was concerned about the "longstanding intransigence" of the agency over the issue. The current rules are "dated, at best," she said, and were harming the image of the FAA with an increasingly skeptical public.

Senator Claire McCaskill

'Sort it out or we will,' warns McCaskill

She noted that only last week the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Julius Genachowski, added his voice to the growing clamor for change. While she looks forward to seeing the results of the FAA's review into the used of personal electronic devices (PEDs), she isn't prepared to wait too long before acting.

"While the agency can and should use existing authorities to allow for the broader use of PEDs, I am prepared to pursue legislative solutions should progress be made too slowly," she warned.

Current policy on the use of PEDs is a complete ban below 10,000 feet and flight-safe mode only for wireless devices above that ceiling – and it hasn't changed much since its introduction in 1991 over fears of interference. While it has never been proved that in-flight electronics could interfere with aircraft systems, there are thousands of devices out there and no one's done the testing.

There are good reasons for at least some of the rules. Over 90 per cent of passenger casualties come in the first and the last five minutes of flight, and having people focused and ready to react – or at least not wearing headphones – makes sense.

Concerns have been expressed over the fire issue. It's not unknown for electronics to overheat or, in the case of some dodgy batteries, combust. An in-flight fire, particularly when flying over an ocean, is one of the nastier safety situations that air crew train for, just behind a massive loss in cabin pressure or a reduction in the number of wings.

There's also the projectile effect, with that slim fondleslab becoming a very effective missile if the plane slows suddenly. Even when taxiing, some aircraft are toddling along at 25mph but can brake sharply if necessary, something people in a rush to get their stowed luggage would do well to remember.

McCaskill's letter will add additional pressure for the FAA to get its act together, but the agency operates on the precautionary principle, and it's likely it'll require some extensive testing or long conferences with manufacturers before shifting policy. In the meantime, El Reg suggests the simple work-around of reading a book. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.