As airlines in the U.S. comply, passengers will be permitted to use mobile phones, tablets, and e-readers, either in non-transmitting airplane mode or with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if available and allowed, during taxiing, takeoff and landing.
"We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers' increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, in a statement.
Consumers' affinity for their electronic devices put pressure on the FAA to re-evaluate a policy that critics have dismissed as having no real scientific basis. In response, the agency said in August 2012 that it was forming a group to study whether in-flight usage of personal electronic devices posed a threat to safety.
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The FAA first put rules in place limiting electronics back in 1966, based on studies several years prior that found portable FM radios could interfere with VHF Omni Range navigation systems. In the mid-1990s, the proliferation of portable electronic devices prompted a technical group to recommend further restrictions as a precaution.
Under the FAA's new policy, in-flight usage of cellular networks to make calls will continue to be prohibited. Although the rule-making committee concluded that emanations from personal devices have no impact on airplane avionics, it did not evaluate the impact of stronger cellular radio transmissions.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, who wrote to the FAA last year urging the agency to revise its policy, celebrated the announcement as "a win for common sense."
It's up to airlines now to inform the FAA how they will respond. The agency anticipates that many carriers will allow portable electronic devices more broadly by the end of the year.
Already, Delta Air Lines says it is ready to allow passengers to use portable electronic devices in airplane mode during taxi, takeoff and landing on domestic flights. In-flight Wi-Fi will be offered to customers once planes have ascended above 10,000 feet.
Delta has submitted its plan and intends to implement it as soon as Nov. 1 with FAA approval. The company expects its 550 regional Delta Connection aircrafts to be ready by the end of the year.