FAA to study airline passenger use of tablets and other devices

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Alert Alec Baldwin. It may one day be OK to use a personal electronic device when your plane takes off.

The Federal Aviation Administration is putting together a group to study mobile electronic device use by passengers. It will be looking at what gadgets passengers can safely use while aboard and when.

But cellphone calls will be off the table. The FAA said the group would not be considering “the airborne use of cellphones for voice communications.”

It is possible, however, that this could be an early step toward the agency’s revising its ban on using laptops, tablet computers, e-readers and smartphones (for Internet uses) during takeoffs and landings.

At this point the FAA sees the devices, such as iPads and Kindles, as possible dangers to modern jetliners as they ascend or descend, but not at cruising altitudes.

In a news release, the agency cited “widespread consumer use of portable electronic devices” as a reason to reexamine its policies.

“With so many different types of devices available, we recognize that this is an issue of consumer interest,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we must set appropriate standards as we help the industry consider when passengers can use the latest technologies safely during a flight.”

As part of the process, the FAA will convene the panel that will include representatives from mobile technology and aviation industries, pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines and passenger associations. Not included in the group were actors, such as Baldwin.

He had likely the most famous dust-up over current policy when, last year, he refused to turn off his cellphone (he was playing a game on it) as his flight was about to take off from LAX. Baldwin was removed from the plane and kept his phone on to send angry tweets.

The FAA said the group was to examine a range of issues involving personal electronic devices. It will formally solicit comments later this week.