FAA to reconsider e-book policy

Kai Ryssdal Mar 19, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: A note now to the airline passenger public. There are about a bajillion things that have to happen between now and what I’m about to tell you actually coming to pass, but the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s going to take another look at the rules for electronic devices on airplanes.

New York Times blogger Nick Bilton knows a little something about that. He’s on his cell phone at Kennedy Airport in New York, fresh off a flight from San Francisco with the details. Hi Nick.

Nick Bilton: Thanks for having me.

Ryssdal: So first of all, how was the flight man? Did you have enough to read?

Bilton: I did, but I didn’t have anything to eat. So other than that, I had to bring some print magazines with me to help pass the time though.

Ryssdal: Well tell me about that. You are an inveterate e-reader user, lots of people are. And now you say that the FAA might be taking another look at this.

Bilton: Yeah. So I’ve written a bunch of columns about the fact that we aren’t allowed to use e-readers and iPads and things like that on airplanes during takeoff and landing. The rules that exist have been around for some time, but they don’t actually make sense. They were actually incorporated way before these devices existed. And so I’ve called the FAA several times and kind of annoyed them, but when I called them this time they said that they were actually going to start looking into investigating whether they can start using these things on flights again.

Ryssdal: What does that exactly mean though? I can’t just imagine that they’re going to say, mmm OK.

Bilton: Um, that’s a great question. I think what it means is they have a lot of work ahead of them, a lot of bureaucracy and red tape. The way that FAA approves devices for airplanes, and currently there’s opnly about four different things that are approved — that includes electric razors, hearing aids, bizaare contraptions like that. The way that they have to do it is they have to send the flight up with no people on, just the pilots, and then all this testing equipment. And then they actually have to test the devices. So if you see the American Airlines pilots, they know have iPads in the cockpit, that is what they did in the field to test those things. That is what they’re going to have to do for Kindles and Nooks and all these other things, too.

Ryssdal: Just to be clear, because people will certainly want to know about this, we’re not talking about using phones on airplanes yet, are we?

Bilton: Absolutely not. What people are really, I think, looking for are they want to be able to — if people don’t want a print book and they hae a Kindle they spent $100 on or an iPad that they spent $500 on — they want to be able to read a book during takeoff and landing on that. Or a magazine or whatever it is, and the current rules don’t let you do that. And I think that’s what the FAA is going to start looking into. It’s not about cell phones.

Ryssdal: Nick Bilton, he writes the Bits Blog for the New York Times. We got him at Kennedy Airport in New York City. Nick, thanks a lot.

Bilton: Thanks for having me.

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