US mulls over use of gadgets on planes

WASHINGTON - United States aviation officials are considering easing restrictions on the use of personal electronics such as smartphones, laptops and e-readers aboard airplanes, a spokesman said on Monday.

An advisory panel was expected to meet yesterday and today to finalise its recommendations for the Federal Aviation Administra- tion (FAA) by next week.

"The FAA recognises that consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft," a spokesman said in an e-mail message to AFP.

According to current regulations, passengers are asked to turn off their electronic devices for take-off and landing.

The ban on sending and receiving e-mail messages, making calls and using Wi-Fi is based on concerns that the communications might interfere with a plane's navigation systems.

Experts said that many such concerns are outdated, since the FAA last year allowed airlines to replace paper flight manuals in the cockpit with tablets.

Phone calls aboard planes are banned by a separate entity, the Federal Communications Commission, and would not be subject to change by the FAA.

Captain Sean Cassidy of Alaska Airlines said he supports the quest for solid science on the usage of consumer electronics in flights. He said: "We've heard an awful lot of rumours about potential interference, but I think taking a very deliberate data-driven approach is a good thing."