The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it will let airlines expand passengers' use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight, possibly by the end of the year.
The expansion will allow most passengers to play games, watch videos and read books on electronic devices during takeoff and landing, but they still will not be allowed to use cellular service on their phones at any time, the FAA said in a news release.
Cellphone use will still be restricted to airplane mode or allowed with cell service disabled, the agency said.
"We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers' increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The decision comes after a group of experts determined that "most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals" from the devices, the news release said. The FAA is providing airlines with guidance to assess their aircraft and implement the new policy, it said.
The FAA predicted that most airlines will allow passengers to use the devices "gate-to-gate" by the end of the year.
[Updated, 10:13 a.m. PDT Oct. 31: "We're pleased the FAA recognizes that an enjoyable passenger experience is not incompatible with safety and security," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Assn.
A committee of experts that included pilots, manufacturers, airline representatives and flight attendants said in a report last month to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta that the devices were safe for use at all altitudes. Currently, airlines require passengers to turn off and stow portable electronics while the plane is below 10,000 feet.
The group also recommended that heavier electronics, such as laptops, remain stowed during takeoff and landing for safety reasons. Smaller devices could be held or secured in the seat-back pocket during takeoff and landing.
The FAA said it did not consider a change on cellphone calls in flight because those restrictions are imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. The rule-making committee also recommended that the two agencies review the cellphone rules.]
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