Out of far-left field comes a proposal from the FCC to the FAA to relax standards on the use of cellphones, tablets and other personal electronic devices during takeoff and landing aboard airliners. In his letter to the FAA's Michael Huerta, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski basically pitched a novel argument: Banning of these devices stifles productivity. Executives can't convey their orders; salesmen can't close sales; workers can't brief their bosses on the results of their travel and so forth. Worse, carping journalists such as myself might be bored for 10 minutes waiting for the flight to climb out of computer-free airspace. Oh, the horror.
Although I like the cut of Genachowski's jib, his letter lacked one important thing: The attachment citing data from a well-designed study showing that, beyond reasonable doubt, PEDs represent no safety threat to safe airline ops. Or, failing that, a framework for how such a study might be conducted. In a previous blog, I opined as how what I'd be looking for is a rigorous examination of this issue to reveal and resolve any issues related to PED use in the takeoff and landing phases of flight. The comments in that blog revealed enough anecdotal interference reports to suggest there could be hidden issue we don't understand.
The FAA is assembling an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to do just this in the coming year. Presumably, it will then make a recommendation. If it determines that tablets and smartphones are okay, I'll be the first to cheer.
But then I had a chilling thought from the be-careful-what-you-wish for file. I wasn't really thinking about the phone part of the smartphone, but the data and app part. Because if it comes to pass that passengers are allowed unrestricted use of cellphones throughout the flight, I think we're looking at riots in the aisles. The last thing I want is to sit next to someone chattering away on the cellphone for two hours and the likelihood of finding such a seatmate I deem to be about even. Personally, I'd never consider doing this and wouldn't even make other than the shortest call from an airline seat with someone sitting nearby. It's just common courtesy. I'm confident the world is full of people not similarly inclined. Genachowski's letter seems to imply a future in which the FCC's own restrictions on airborne cellphone usage are lifted and/or phones that reliably work airborne will be commonplace.
So for now, I'd hope the airlines would retain the hang-up rule once the cabin door closes, but allow app and tablet use. Or at least e-readers. Genachowski is right about one thing: the accelerating global communication revolution lends a certain inevitably to all of this. If it doesn't happen next year or the year after, 10 years from now, getting on an airliner won't sever you from the grid any more than walking from your car to your house.
I'm not sure if that's exciting or depressing.