The safety of airplanes travelling is generally overseen by two major agencies: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The country where airplanes are registered – the so-called “tail number” - decides which of these administrations’ rules you need to follow. There are many more, almost each state has their own, but these are the ones that everybody is copying the rules from.
The FAA being the oldest such agency announced on October 31, 2013 that they are going to relax the rules on the use of personal electronic devices. So it came as no surprise that the EASA essentially copied the recommendation and published their own press release on November 13, 2013.
What’s remarkable is how quickly EASA followed suit, they only too, 2 weeks. The US agency did some studies in this matter and is hesitant to state that every airline can now allow Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs).
Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.
The FAA based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and the mobile technology industry.
That kind of caution you can hear in these words is typical for US authorities. They are always afraid that one of their recommendations or rules might allow a disaster to happen. This is also the reason why the aviation rules of the FAA are lengthy and tedious to learn, any pilot can tell you that.
The above quote basically states that it’s the airline’s fault if they ask you to stow your iPad on take-off. And that if the airplane crashes, it is entirely the fault of those experts.
The EASA on the other hand doesn’t actually publish anything just yet.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will publish by the end of November 2013 guidance which will extend to all phases of flight the possibility to use personal electronic devices (PED) such as tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players as long as the devices are in ‘Flight Mode’ or ‘Airplane Mode’.
This – on the other hand – is typically for the Europeans. It takes them 2-3 weeks to draft a guidance paper which basically will be a copy of the US rules. In other words, several pages of “we too!”
Though, in all fairness, the EASA goes a step further: they are investigating how cellphones could be certified for use in flight. FAA only stated that they are not responsible for that, but you should ask the FCC instead.
EASA: “In the long term, the Agency is looking at new ways to certify the use of mobile phones on-board aircraft to make phone calls. EASA recognises the wide proliferation of personal electronic devices and the wish of the travelling public to use them everywhere.”
Passengers fearing a future of constant chatter: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
The result of both these publications will be that sooner rather than later you will be able to use your iOS and other PED devices from start to finish. Finally the “Airplane Mode” deserves its name. It has always been a concern that cellphones – outside of the range of a cell tower – would constantly send at high power and this would disrupt the sensitive equipment on airplanes. It turns out that this output is much less of an issue. You are supposed to turn off your phone radio, but if you forget it, the worst that will happen is that your battery will end up dead on landing.
Devices which you cannot hold all the time you will still have to stow. This includes your MacBook. This is great news for Apple, because now it makes even more sense to bring an iPad as a second device for your personal entertainment.
Besides using your devices – in airplane mode – throughout the entire voyage, you still should casually glance at the stewardess during the safety demonstration. As to prevent the situation from happening that you are the only person not making it to the emergency exit because you’ve been reading an iBook at the wrong time.