Category Listing

NATA News

NATA Comments on FAA Portable Electronic Device Policy

October 30, 2012                                                                                   

 
Docket Operations, M-30

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Room W12-140

West Building Ground Floor

Washington, DC  20590-0001

 
Delivered electronically via www.regulations.gov

 
RE:  Docket No. FAA-2012-0752; Passenger Use of Portable Electronic Devices on Board Aircraft

 
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the voice of aviation business, is the public policy group representing the interests of aviation businesses before Congress, federal agencies and state governments.  NATA’s 2,000 member companies own, operate, and service aircraft.  These companies provide for the needs of the traveling public by offering services and products to aircraft operators and others such as fuel sales, aircraft maintenance, parts sales, storage, rental, airline servicing, flight training, Part 135 on-demand air charter, fractional aircraft program management and scheduled commuter operations in smaller aircraft.  NATA members are a vital link in the aviation industry providing services to the general public, airlines, general aviation, and the military.

 
Key Recommendations

As the national association representing Part 135 air carriers and Part 91 fractional aircraft program managers, NATA supports increased access to personal electronic devices (PEDs) by passengers.  NATA offers two key recommendations with regard to passenger use of PEDs while on board aircraft.

     1. NATA recommends that the  Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permit the use of PEDs at any time while on board an aircraft under the following conditions;

  • authorization of PED use is, in general, at the discretion of the carrier or program manager, and, for any given operation, at the discretion of the flight crew
  • devices may not be in use during the departure briefing (but may remain powered-on)
  • larger devices (e.g. laptop computers) should be stowed for takeoff and landing phases per operator-established policies or at the direction of the flight crew

     2. With regard to transmitting PEDs (such as mobile phones or other devices using cellular technology), NATA recommends that FAA policy and regulations should permit the use of said devices if the carrier so chooses to permit, and equip the aircraft as necessary to support, such use.

Differences In Passenger Attitudes

NATA believes it is critical for the FAA to understand the different perspectives on PEDs amongst passengers of on-demand air charter and/or fractional program aircraft and those on the Part 121 airlines.  The concerns expressed by many airline passengers related to PEDs, and in particular concerns over mobile phone usage, are largely due to the cramped environment typical on an airline aircraft.  Passengers fear disruptions and annoyances caused by cell phones being used in this environment.
 

On the contrary, the passengers on aircraft utilized by NATA’s members would welcome the ability to use their cell phones during their flight.  These passengers want to be accessible to their business associates or family during their trip.  Flights are generally limited to select persons all known to each other and who are traveling for a common purpose – i.e. a business meeting.  These persons are able to decide for themselves, collectively, whether any conversation is inappropriate or disruptive to the group. 

 

Passengers on our member’s aircraft are actively inquiring about the ability to use their own phone during flight rather than rely on installed flight phones that are not easily used to receive inbound communications. 

 

We recognize and respect that this view is not shared by many operating within the Part 121 environment and recommend that due to the distinct operational environments and passenger feedback, it is appropriate to consider Part 135 and Part 91 operations separately in this matter.  Our members operating and managing aircraft and the passengers that use these aircraft are in agreement in their desire to enhance PED use, including cellular-based PEDs, on board aircraft.

 

Passenger Safety Briefing

The importance of a proper pre-departure briefing is critical and NATA supports PED-related regulations mandating that these devices may not be “in use” during the briefing.  This is distinguished from current policies that require devices to be shut down or turned off prior to flight.  NATA does not imply that a passenger would need to turn off a device merely that it is not to be in use during the safety briefing.  Put simply, passengers should not be listening to music or talking on the phone during a briefing, much like they are asked to stop reading the paper or to cease conversations with seatmates today. 

 

Interference

The FAA explains in its notice that rules restricting PEDs originated due to demonstrated interference with aircraft navigation systems resulting from FM radio receivers.  To the extent that radio technology was demonstrated to create interference and may still pose an interference threat it is appropriate for the FAA to continue to bar their use on aircraft.  Likewise it would be appropriate for the FAA to restrict any devices known to cause interference.  However, the majority of devices that today’s passengers wish to use have never, to our knowledge, been shown to create a flight hazard. Despite many studies the FAA cites no conclusive data to show that today’s electronics are a threat. 

 

To the contrary, there is now real-world experience supporting increased ability to used PEDs, including transmitting PEDs like cell phones during all phases of flight.  Widespread PED use during flight at altitude has generated no known problems that would indicate use during all phases would be unsafe.  Further, several non-U.S. airlines now permit the use of cellular connected devices during flight.  These carriers have satisfied their respective regulatory authorities’ safety concerns and installed equipment allowing cell phones and other connected devices to be used during flight.  To date, there have been no reports of adverse safety consequences.  The FAA now has current, real-world experiences to refer to that support the ability and choice of an aircraft owner or operator to install this equipment.   At this juncture, the hesitation to move toward permitting use of cell phones and other connected devices appears to be influenced more by public sentiment than hard data.  Again, NATA fully appreciates this concern.  It is why we are recommending changes specific to the on-demand air charter and fractional ownership segments of the industry.

 

Procedures and Methods for Operators to Allow Use of PEDs

As the FAA moves toward an adoption of increased use of PEDs by passengers, there are safety concerns to address.  NATA believes that the FAA should shift the regulations (i.e. §§ 91.21 and 135.144) to permit, rather than prohibit, PED use by passengers unless the operator chooses to restrict such use.  This shift would grant passengers wider ability to use PEDs, but retains the ability of the operator to restrict use for any reason at any time.  This places the focus on carrier or program manager policies in conjunction with the authority of the flight crew, to determine when (and which) devices may not be used.

 

Current regulations state that the aircraft operator may permit PEDs that the operator has determined will not cause interference with the aircraft (see 14 CFR 135.144(b)(5)).  NATA advocates that the FAA amend the regulations to permit the use of PEDs unless carrier-restricted rather than today’s standard where the carrier must specifically approve every device.  With the rapid progress of technology and new devices being released daily it is unrealistic to anticipate that every possible device a passenger may bring on board has been determined by the carrier not to cause interference and that each device is addressed in the operator’s manuals and procedures. 

 

A more realistic stance, given the lack of data showing negative interference is an issue today, is to permit most PEDs unless the operator and/or flight crew decide to prohibit items. The FAA, PED manufacturers and others should collaborate to provide to aircraft operators any information on specific devices that may or are known to cause interference.

 

PED Retention Risks

A concern with allowing the use of larger PEDs during take-off and landing phases of flight is their potential to become projectiles or obstacles during an emergency.  NATA concurs with this assessment, and believes that the air carrier/program manager is best suited to determine at what size or weight articles become a concern.  On the typical aircraft utilized by our members, the most likely PED to fall into this category is a laptop computer.  Due to the substantially lower passenger capacity experienced in this industry it is not as likely these items will become evacuation obstacles as they might in the cramped quarters of airliners.  It is possible that they could cause injury as projectiles and should be stowed during critical phases.   NATA recommends that the operators are best suited to determine how such items will be handled on a given aircraft.

 

NATA appreciates the opportunity to provide our views to the FAA as the agency considers changes to existing PED policy.

 

Sincerely,

Jacqueline E. Rosser

Director, Regulatory Affairs