FAA going the wrong direction with in-flight mobile devices


The Federal Aviation Administration's proposed rulemaking regarding the banning of mobile devices for personal use within cockpits is excessive.

Nobody wants pilots checking their messages during takeoff or landing or other vital parts of the flight, but long stretches of flight--as pilots say--are dull and uneventful. Examples of supposed mobile-device-caused problems cited in the FAA Federal Register notice--such as the two Northwestern pilots who in 2009 let their plane go 150 miles off-course--weren't really problems caused by the devices per se.

Still, the rule will no doubt go through, especially since it's required by the most recent FAA authorization.

What the rule is an occasion to remark on, however, is the prolonged stupidity of the FAA's refusal to lift the ban on the portable electronic devices passengers use during takeoff and descent. In seeing the ban as based on unscientific worries about electromagnetic interference or silly safety concerns such as that they would be distracting during a crash or could hit another passenger during that crash, I'm not alone. (People are really going to text until the end? Mobile devices that weigh less than a hardcover book--the reading of which is perfectly allowable anytime on a flight--are actually inherently more dangerous? iPads are okay in the cockpit for flight manual use, but not back in the passenger cabin?)

Even other government officials think the ban is silly--for example Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who sent a letter in December to the FAA calling on it to "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices," The Hill reported. The FAA has said it will review its in-flight portable electronics policy, but the New York Times' Nick Bilton notes the review has been slow-going.

Clearly it's time for some action--unfortunately, it looks like the FAA is doing so in the wrong way. - Dave