U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is standing up for the passengers out there continually told by airlines and the FAA to turn off their smartphones, e-books, tablets and other electronic devices if they want to fly the friendly skies, particularly during takeoff and landing.
On Tuesday, Sen. McCaskill -- a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, with jurisdiction over the country's communications and aviation policy -- penned and published a strongly-worded letter to the FAA, urging the agency to reexamine its rules that disallow the use of electronic devices at certain times during flight, even though many of those same devices are in use during those times anyway.
"We live in an increasingly connected world, and information is traveling at the speed it takes our email to refresh," Sen. McCaskill said in a press release about her letter to the FAA. "The current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don't make sense, and lack a scientific basis. Airline employees have the incredibly important job of keeping us safe in the air-their efforts are better spent worrying about rules that actually accomplish that goal."
According to McCaskill, the public is "growing increasingly skeptical" of the FAA's rule to prohibit the use of certain electronic devices during the full duration of a flight, and this rule is not only flawed, but it also undermines the public's general confidence in the agency itself.
Confidence in the rule is sure to wane, given how the FCC similarly requested the FAA loosen up about the rule three days ago, and just today, the FAA granted approval for iPads to be used by pilots during all phases of flight. Soon, all passengers will wonder, "Why not us?"
"For example, a traveler can read a paper copy of a newspaper throughout a flight, but is prohibited from reading the same newspaper for major portions of the flight when reading it on an e-reader," Sen. McCaskill wrote. The fear of devices that operate on electricity is dated, at best."
Sen. McCaskill implored that the FAA work "as expeditiously as possible to implement common sense changes in today's restrictive regulations on in-flight use of PEDs that better reflect new technologies," but notes that if the FAA does not move on to addressing this hypocritical rule in a timely manner, the senior US senator from Missouri is "prepared to pursue legislative solutions."
Earlier in March, the FAA told Nick Bilton of The New York Times that the agency is taking a "fresh look" at the expanded use of personal electronic devices on planes by bringing together "manufacturers, consumer electronic associations, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and passengers."
Read the full letter from Sen. McCaskill, sent to the FAA's acting administrator Michael Huerta, below:
The Honorable Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Acting Administrator Huerta
As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) evaluates the in-flight use of portable electronic devices (PEDs), I urge the agency to embrace the expanded use of PEDs and work to revise the necessary regulations that will allow for the use of laptop computers, e-readers, smartphones and other PEDs during the full duration of a flight.
The Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) process that has been initiated by the FAA is an important step toward this end. Working with the airlines, electronic device makers and other stakeholders, I am confident the agency can craft policies that reflect the increasing use of these devices by air travelers for professional and personal uses, while maintaining a commitment to passenger safety. However, I am concerned by the longstanding intransigence in reaching workable, common sense solutions that provide for the expanded use by airline passengers of electronic devices during the full duration of a flight.
I welcome Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Genachowski's recent letter in support of expanding permissible use of electronic devices on flights. The FAA must now come on board with this common sense position and enact new policies to memorialize it.
As you surely know, the public is growing increasingly skeptical of prohibitions on the use of many electronic devices during the full duration of a flight, while at the same time using such devices in increasing numbers. For example, a traveler can read a paper copy of a newspaper throughout a flight, but is prohibited from reading the same newspaper for major portions of the flight when reading it on an e-reader. The fear of devices that operate on electricity is dated, at best. Importantly, such anachronistic policies undermine the public's confidence in the FAA, thereby increasing the likelihood that rules of real consequence will be given too little respect. The absurdity of the current situation was highlighted when the FAA acted earlier this year to allow tablet computers to replace paper flight manuals in the cockpit, further enhancing the public's skepticism about the current regulations.
While safety and security must be the top priority in air travel, the FAA and other federal agencies should also work to ensure air travel is as hassle free as possible by revising or removing regulations that have become unnecessary or outdated. It is my hope that the FAA will work, with the FCC and other federal agencies where appropriate, as expeditiously as possible to implement common sense changes to today's restrictive regulations on in-flight use of PEDs that better reflect new technologies and the changing role these devices play in Americans' daily lives. While the agency can and should use existing authorities to allow for the broader use of PEDs, I am prepared to pursue legislative solutions should progress be made too slowly.