Report: FAA panel recommends loosening restrictions on passenger access to mobile devices

A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel voted to recommend that airline passengers be allowed to use their smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other mobile devices during takeoffs and landings, according to an Associated Press report.

The report, which cited unnamed industry officials familiar with the deliberations, followed a New York Times report from earlier this week that said the panel would do so. The proposed recommendations, which will be sent Monday to the FAA, will not allow mobile phone calls or text messages to take place during flight.

If the panel's recommendation is followed, passengers would have greater ability to use most devices below an altitude of 10,000 feet, though most devices would have to be switched to airplane mode, the report said. Additionally, downloading data and using the Web via cellular networks would still be prohibited.

Many consumer electronics companies and consumer advocates have been pushing for years for the FAA to change its rules, arguing that the safety concerns behind the rules are overblown. Currently, passengers are required to turn off phones and other electronic devices while planes are below 10,000 feet to prevent interference with airplane instruments.

The recommendation also comes as more and more companies beef up the capabilities of in-flight Wi-Fi services. For example, Gogo said earlier this month it will launch a new hybrid satellite/cellular-based Wi-Fi service next year that it claims can deliver peak speeds of up to 60 Mbps, more than six times faster than its current peak performance. Virgin America will be the first airline to launch Gogo's new in-flight Wi-Fi service sometime in the second half of 2014 and the airline said it expects to eventually upgrade its entire fleet of 53 aircraft with the service.

Additionally, airline JetBlue recently received government approval to install a new high-capacity satellite link via ViaSat's satellites on many of its planes, which will let fliers stream HD video by delivering speeds of up to 12 Mbps to each passenger's device, not just to the whole plane. The airline, which previously lacked in-flight Wi-Fi, plans to launch the service on some aircraft this year and launch it on its entire fleet of 180 aircraft by the end of 2015.

For more:
- see this AP article
- see this The Verge article

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