Image courtesy Alaska Airlines

Yesterday I was confronted with a lot of chatter regarding the FAA and approved personal electronics. Most of the articles cite a post on NYT’s blog Disruptions. The post itself seems to be largely speculative, but has set off a storm of chatter amongst the general media. Most of this chatter centers on the general public and their use of personal electronics, like iPads and Kindles, during critical phases of flight (e.g., take off, landing). The problem is, no one has told the general public that their use of personal electronics is inconsequential. Yes, that’s right; the FAA doesn’t care if Alec Baldwin wants to play Words with Friends on the runway. Here’s why:

The same policies that dictate that Alec Baldwin stow his iPad mean the pilots must stow theirs, too.

Yep, without extensive testing, the guys in the front have to stow theirs, too. Unfortunately, they aren’t playing words with friends, rather, they’re trying to view documents they need to fly the plane. While they certainly are convenient, most iPads would be considered a Class 1 EFB, which doesn’t exempt them from typical regulations on personal electronics.

Unlike Part 91 operations, airlines must perform some extensive tests to certify personal electronics for cockpit use during critical phases.

If I bought an iPad and loaded up Foreflight, the FAA has provided a means by which as pilot in command I can determine whether it meets regulations for use during flight. This is relatively simple, unfortunately, airline pilots aren’t so lucky. They must wade through a host of regulations and their iPads must be extensively tested before they could do the same thing. The bottom line is that off the shelf electronics, like iPads, just haven’t been that economical when it comes to testing them for use. With the current trends toward paperless cockpits, it is likely that the pilots, airlines, and/or their unions have been pressuring the FAA to reevaluate their stance on this issue in order to ease the process of approving the use of personal electronics during critical phases. After all, it was only last December when the FAA gave American Airlines’ pilots the green light to use iPads during all phases of flight after more than 6 months of testing.

In the event of an overrun, your iPad becomes a really nasty projectile.

Perhaps the biggest reason the FAA isn’t trying to approve Alex Baldwin to use his iPad on the runway is that if something happened, his iPad could maim someone. Interference, which is often cited as the issue dictating the FAA’s stance, isn’t as much of a problem as some would lead you to believe, but limiting the number of projectiles in the cabin is an issue. If you don’t think flying iPads are dangerous, throw one across the room at your wife or kids or someone and then ask them if it hurt. I’m willing to bet they won’t be too happy and they’ll probably bleed. The same FAA regulations that dictate how to certify personal electronics for use during critical phases also state that the operator is permitted to prohibit anyone from using personal electronics. That means even if the FAA allows it, the airline can still prohibit you from using it.

So, suck it up and stow your iPad. You can live without it for the 10 minutes you’ll spend taking off and landing.

What’s your opinion, is the FAA really concerned with passengers use of personal electronics? Am I mistaken in my understanding of the regulations? Leave a comment with your take.