The FAA has finally eased restrictions on in-flight electronics. According to new information posted to the FAA website (factsheet), fliers will now be able to use electronic devices for much of the flight, in some cases even during takeoff and landings. Talking on cellphones is still forbidden, but using WiFi on smartphones is now mostly okay beneath 10,000 feet.
Until now flight attendants tell passengers to turn off all cell phones, computers, e-readers once the cabin door is closed, and leave them off until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. Meanwhile commercial aircraft commonly provide in-cabin WiFi throughout a flight.
There will still be some restrictions. Voice communications will remain off limits, and users may still be required to place electronics in the seat-front pocket during takeoffs and landings to avoid the devices becoming projectiles during turbulence.
Without the anticipated revenue from older aircraft phones, a growing consumer demand for in-flight Wi-Fi, and with cockpit iPads becoming commonplace replacing paper charts and manuals, the move to allow consumer electronics has long been anticipated.
The new policies are expected to be implemented sometime before the end of the year.
Verizon used to offer Airfone, which allowed passengers to make telephone calls in-flight. Airfone phone calls were expensive compared to ground-based telephone calls, costing $3.99 per call and $4.99 per minute in 2006. It was something of a profit center, but used inefficient technology.
In May and June 2006, the frequencies over which Airfone operated were sold at auction by the FCC to two new license holders, and Verizon received a non-renewable license until 2010. Gogo was awarded the FCC’s exclusive Air-To-Ground (ATG) 3Ghz broadband frequency license in 2006. LiveTV, an affiliate of JetBlue, acquired about 1/3 of the original Airfone bandwidth from the FCC.
Similarly, hospitals banned cellphones due to concerns about safety (and revenue from pricey landline service). Today few, if any, hospitals have retained the earlier blanket bans on cell phones, as nurses and attendants use them regularly.