PED’s, Feds, and Work Ahead


Unless you have been living under a rock the last couple months, we note (like every news source in existence) that the FAA and FCC are about to review the FAR’s and airline mindset for the use of Personal Electric Devices, beginning with a request for comments this past August. From the FAA documentation: “Current FAA regulations generally prohibit the use of all PEDs during flight, with the exception of portable voice recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers, and electric shavers.” Remembering that the FAA left the final call for usage up to the airlines: “These regulations also provide an exception for any other PED that the aircraft operator has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication systems on the aircraft. To better effectuate the safety purposes of these regulations, this notice requests comments about key areas of policy and guidance that are used by aircraft operators when making these determinations.”(FAA to Rexamine PEDS onboard)

We sought to get a little smarter and contacted John Courtright, SIE Program & Marketing honcho to brush-up our understanding about the process. Interested about the impact of Smartphones & Wi-Fi everywhere, we were curious about where cabin connectivity is heading. John has participated in aligned committees and told IFExpress, “Ultimately, there will be no technology constraints to making the aircraft cabin an airborne wireless marketplace,” which is most probably insider-speak for “don’t worry, be happy” about your next flight. John went on, “The FAA is doing a very good job investigating the issues related to passenger devices and avionics susceptibility and, I believe, will come to a balanced policy, through the TPED Rule Making Committee, which ensures flight safety and promotes the wireless connectivity business that will undoubtedly grow exponentially.”

We should also note that John worked closer to this subject a few years back in a certification related work experience and we remembered a factual presentation he gave at a conference on the subject of PED Regulatory Considerations wherein he delineated some of the studied and reported sources of PED interference that are partly at the heart of the matter. While it was a few years back, it gave a good picture of some of the EMI/RFI issues. It is worth a read (presentation).

In November, the FAA set up an ARC (Aviation Rulemaking Committee) to, in part, address the 850 comments they received on the subject. At the APEX TC last month, the subject was covered by the man on the spot, Tim Shaver, FAA Avionics Branch Manager in an excellent presentation on the subject. Note that the FAA’s goal is to understand “the challenges facing safely expanding the use of PED’s” and “provide clear, actionable recommendations to effect necessary changes”. That pretty much says it all and we probably won’t see the results till late next year.

We should note that last week the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski issued a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acting chairman Michael Huerta calling on the FAA to “enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices” during flights. With the FCC onboard, it looks like the remaining issues like electrical interference, passenger attention, and a host of others lie in the airlines and FAA hands.

Lastly, we had to provide a link to one of the current wail and moan stories from a techno-intelligencia news publication about the deplorable connectivity conditions onboard US airlines today, but the best part are the letters to the editor. Don’t miss the discourse.

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