If you have not heard about the recent FAA announcement of new rulings regarding the use of passenger PED’s on aircraft at the gate, during taxi and take-off… essentially less than 10,000 feet altitude, you have not been paying attention. We want to assure you that, as Michael Childers, one of the ARC (Aviation Rulemaking Committee) members noted, “It is NOT true that the rules were loosened because they were wrong, and it is NOT OK to use your PED inflight unless the aircraft has been certified PED-tolerant.” We agree and asked Michael for a bit more background. “The ARC reviewed the matter of PEDs inflight thoroughly and concluded that while newer aircraft may be more likely to be PED-tolerant, and newer PEDs may be less likely to interfere with cabin communications, we did NOT conclude that the rules were unnecessary or that there are no risks. We determined that aircraft must undergo specified risk assessment and mitigation procedures based largely on RTCA DO-307. Unfortunately, too many in the press were willing to declare the rules unnecessary and to erroneously state that unlimited PED usage can begin. This may very well result in mass confusion and rampant disregard for the rules.” Michael went on; “Just got on my AA flight BWI-DFW, and was talking with the flight attendants about the new policy – they said it would cause them problems until their airplanes got approved (and right they are, as everyone was talking about it on my flight). The pilot also made announcement that the “airline’s procedures still needed to be approved by FAA, so PEDs off.”

So, where do we stand today? We asked Rich Salter, another ARC member, and he told IFExpress, “The aircraft and its avionics onboard need to be analyzed and/or tested before PEDs can be allowed to remain powered-on gate-to-gate, and until all planes are shown to be PED tolerant we will have a mixed fleet of aircraft (with some having been shown to be PED-tolerant and some that have not).  In an environment where many cell phones are already left on in flight, this is a critical time period where passenger confusion about PED usage could lead to even more non-compliance with the power-them-off policy for non-tolerant aircraft. The best situation is to have all airlines get their aircraft analyzed/tested as soon as possible. Take a look at the ARC report. Rich went on to say, “The requirements for PED certification are testing or analyzing the front door (through the antenna) and back door (through the wiring or through the cases of the radio boxes themselves) EMI interference. We are going to have a tutorial on this (DO307) at the next APEX TC meeting (Nov. 19-20 in Newport Beach) – you should not miss it. Also, we’ll have 7 members of the ARC committee there for a session on this – if you are interested plan on coming down for this one.” If you are looking for a good link on the subject, check this one out.

The bottom line – PED usage policy will vary from airline to airline and thus will not change overnight – check with your airline. Current PED usage policies will remain in effect till the safety assessment is made on an aircraft model basis by the airline and receives approval from the FAA. The one caveat is the use (transmission or reception) of wireless information (data, and voice is still prohibited) upon leaving the gate till arrival – think ‘Airplane Mode’. If an onboard Wi-Fi system is employed it most probably will be shut off till the plane reaches 10,000 feet and then you can use it only for wireless data transmission and reception till the decent to 10,000 feet.

The interference potential depends on the aircraft, the aircraft systems installed, and the characteristics of the personal device you are using. The issue is aircraft onboard receivers that may still be susceptible to signals emanating from your device. (Note: While we don’t imply that there can be multiple issues like bad grounding or shorted cable and the like, if they exist they just increase the problem probabilities). The interference issue can come into play during IFR conditions and localizer and glide slope approaches may be affected as the signals are obviously subject to interference… even if the frequencies differ. There are other issues like stowage of heavier electronic devices (think laptops) for take-off and landing because of the potential for reduced egress or flying object damage in the case of emergencies. No doubt, this one will take some PAX learning and cause flight crews more headaches. We see lots of signage, placards, announcements and messages for passengers on this one. Obviously, as we mentioned above, IFR conditions under 10,000 feet will probably be at issue as well so we hope travelers buck-up.  Even ALPA joined in on this one, “We urge passengers, to realize the potential seriousness of using a device when any crew member – pilot or flight attendant – advises them that it is unsafe to do so.”

In the end, the airlines (worldwide) have to go along with this PED usage change. They love the $27 Billion garnered from Ancillary Revenue and want nothing to create an environment of cabin discontent to cloud the arena. Yes, it will cost them money but it will be lost in the AR gains. Stay Tuned.

On another note:
“It seems that the sad news about passing’s comes in three’s,” one IFE’er told IFExpress. “First it was Lou Donaty, next Brian Payten, and now, John Landstrom.” He was the ‘real deal’ and is synonymous with Sony TransCom, and as one industry expert told us; “I think we’d all agree that John made TransCom a special place to work… more fun than a ordinary job.”

London, UK | November 1, 2013– The number of commercial aircraft providing either Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity will reach 4,048 by the end of 2013, representing 21 percent of the global fleet, according to the latest research published by IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS).

The penetration of wireless is up from 15 percent in 2012 and 12 percent in 2011, as presented in the attached figure. By 2022, wireless connectivity penetration in commercial aircraft is set to reach 50 percent.

Of the 4,000 aircraft estimated to offer at least one of the two forms of connectivity in 2013, approximately 75 percent offer Wi-Fi-only. Wi-Fi connectivity is particularly widespread among North American airlines.

“The rising availability of in-flight wireless connectivity comes at a time when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) moves to loosen its rules for the usage of electronic devices on flights,” said Heath Lockett, senior analyst for aerospace at IHS. “The proportion of passengers actually connecting to wireless services on board is still very low, average in the single-digit percentages. The great challenge for airlines now is to inform passengers of the services they offer and to get them to pay for access. With the change in FAA rules garnering major attention in the media, the airlines now have a chance to get their message out to U.S. air travelers.”

The rise in connectivity is not confined to the United States, however. Airlines around the world have rolled out a variety of connectivity options, utilizing a range of technology types and service providers. Although banned over North American airspace, cellular connectivity has grown across the rest of the world, with almost 600 aircraft projected to feature the technology by the end of 2013. Most passengers are using their cellphones for data services and text messaging as opposed to phone calls.

Several airlines—including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines—have opted to provide both Wi-Fi and cellular services, which combined represent the fastest-growing category of in-flight connectivity. Of the 14,000 aircraft forecast to provide some form of connectivity by 2022, approximately 5,000 are projected to offer both Wi-Fi and cellular options.

The two-tiered system, popular in an array of other industries, is one in which users can opt either for a free or low-cost bandwidth-limited connection, or pay a premium for a guaranteed high-speed experience. When ViaSat launches its Exede service on JetBlue’s fleet later this year, it may well provide such a facility, allowing free access at a controlled bandwidth to all passengers, while providing its promised 12 megabits-per-second service for every passenger to those willing to pay a certain price. In theory, this would satisfy both the bulk of fliers who want to connect for free, as well as the few that may desire a high-quality connection.

As more aircraft are equipped with connectivity, and with service providers jostling to provide even greater connection speeds to address passenger demand for bandwidth, the future for in-flight connectivity looks set to soar.