Airplane passengers might not have to stow away their tablets and smartphones during takeoffs and landings in the near future.
A federal panel is expected to release recommendations Monday saying the use of some electronic devices is safe during takeoffs and landings. The proposal by a committee created in January by the Federal Aviation Administration may ease longtime restrictions that have frustrated airline travelers.
Regardless of what the panel recommends, the use of cellphones to make calls or send messages will still be prohibited under U.S. law.
The 28-member panel must find a balance between the demands of travelers who love tinkering with their electronic devices and flight attendants who worry that passengers will be too engaged with their gadgets to follow instructions.
"Flight attendants have long been concerned about the potential for disruptions to safety and security from the use of portable electronic devices on commercial flights," said Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents about 60,000 flight attendants on 23 airlines.
The panel includes representatives from the airline, aviation and electronics industries, including a member of the flight attendants trade group. The FAA has asked members not to comment on the recommendations until they are released.
If the new rules mean passengers will take more time to load onto the plane because they are fussing with a electronic devices, industry experts say the delays could cost airlines money.
The trade group that represents the nation's largest airlines said they know passengers are eager to use electronic devices more often during flights.
"We look forward to working with the FAA to safely implement processes and procedures that would enable that to happen," said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America.
Passengers and electronics experts have noted that most electronic devices — such as e-readers and smartphones and tablets — put in airplane mode do not pose a threat to a plane's navigation or communication systems.
Henry Harteveldt, an airline industry analyst at Hudson Crossing, said he expects that the FAA will adopt new rules to ease the restrictions on portable electronic devices on planes. The question, he said, is how will the new rules be implemented.
"The flight attendants have a legitimate concern," he said. "They want passengers to pay attention to safety announcements."
Because commercial planes jostle around during taxiing, landings and takeoffs, Harteveldt said he wonders if airlines will impose restrictions on larger devices, such as laptops, which can pose a hazard to other passengers if they get loose during turbulence.
"Will it be based on what kind of device or will it be based on the size and weight of the device?" he asked.
The use of cellphones to make calls or send messages on planes is prohibited in U.S. airspace by the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission. However, cellphone calls and messages are allowed on several foreign carriers in the skies over Asia and the Middle East.
The panel's recommendations will be considered for adoption by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, agency officials said.
The proposals represent the FAA's fourth study on the use of personal electronic devices since 1966. The expanded use of electronic devices by travelers and the growing variety of such gadgets prompted the FAA to appoint the latest committee.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun