The head of the FCC has formally asked the FAA to allow greater use of tablet computers and e-readers in airline cabins, just as the latter agency is reviewing its rule on personal electronic devices for passenger use. In his letter to the FAA, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that "mobile devices are increasingly interwoven into our daily lives. ... [T]hey empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness."
The Hill reported this week that the FCC considered rolling back rules prohibiting in-flight cellphone use in 2004, but later withdrew the initiative because it lacked sufficient data to prove whether in-flight use would interfere with how cellular technology hands off and routes calls. And even if the rule had be lifted, the FAA's FAR 91.21, the so-called personal electronic device rule, would still allow airlines and aircraft operators wide latitude in allowing or prohibiting electronic device usage in cabins. Research on PED interference with modern aircraft navigation and communication systems has been mixed at best. The FAA reports many anecdotal incidents involving interference, but no definitive data on interference has yet emerged. Most airlines and aircraft operators ban cellphone usage at any altitude, but allow use of computers, tablets and e-readers above 10,000 feet. Increasingly, airlines are requiring cellphones to be powered down, not just placed in airplane mode.