FAA could finally nix in-flight electronics regulations in the US this year

airplane cockpit
Why can pilots use iPads while passengers can't? We're glad a senator is asking these questions

Since the dawn of time, countless fliers have been badgered by flight attendants and even other passengers to turn off their tablets, laptops and gaming systems during take-offs and landings, but that could soon change.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States is getting closer to issuing a verdict on those outdated electronics regulations, and the magic eight-ball of the New York Times' Bits blog said over the weekend, "outlook good."

Bits consulted sources in the FAA and the group that the FAA tasked with reevaluating in-flight electronics usage, who said that the Administration is feeling the pressure from all sides to just let people read their damn Kindles.

If everything stays on track, the FAA could soon crack under that pressure.

Under pressure

The FAA's investigation team includes representatives from groups and companies that include Amazon, the Consumer Electronics Association, Boeing, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Federal Communications Commission, and makers of aircraft.

According to the Bits blog, the Scooby Doo-like detective team has other goals, like determining exactly what "airplane mode" means across a wide range of devices and ensuring that its findings regarding in-flight electronics use will be applicable even to future devices that aren't available yet. Interestingly, the blog noted that cell phones might be exempt from any changes.

The group is scheduled to present its findings on electronic usage on planes on July 31. In the meantime, the FAA is facing pressure from groups ranging from travel agencies to pilots unions to change its stance.

Even FCC head Julius Genachowski sent a common sense-appealing letter to the FAA in December of last year.

If they can't do it, a senator can

Bits also reported that Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is preparing to introduce legislation to either force the FAA's hand or ensure that it sticks to the findings of the investigating group.

McCaskill reportedly became involved when inconsistencies within the FAA's own policies - pilots and flight attendants can use iPads during take-off and landing, while passengers can't - started to irk her.

After a meeting with Genachowski this month, McCaskill reportedly said, "The idea that in-flight use of electronic devices for things like reading a book poses a threat to the safety of airline passengers is baseless and outdated."

She told the Bits blog that the FAA is moving too slowly, and that legislation is currently being drafted that would "dictate these changes" for the organisation.

So either way, it seems things are about to change for the better.

No such luck for Australians

Unfortunately, this particular piece of news doesn't mean much for air travel in Australia.

Australian flights are regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which independently determines the safety regulations for Aussie flights.

Of course, having the FAA change its processes could go a long way to convince CASA to change the regulations in Australia, but it won't be an automatic change.

A CASA spokesperson told TechRadar: "We are monitoring the work the FAA is doing and when they make a decision we will review that decision. It's all speculation at the moment."

In other words, don't hold your breath...

Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.