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FAA to Review Electronics Bans on Planes

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(CNN) — The slow process of updating the rules that dictate when and if you can use electronic devices on airplanes is inching along, with one major agency urging more freedom to use tablets, e-readers and other gadgets.

In August, the FAA announced plans for a working group that would study the issue of portable electronics on flights and then make suggestions for changes. Now that committee is starting to come together.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, officially announcing who will represent the FCC in the working group. The letter also included words of support for the initiative. The letter was first obtained by The Hill blog.

“I write to urge the FAA to enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable electronic devices during flight, consistent with public safety,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in the letter.

The working group will also include representatives from the electronics industry, pilots and flight attendant groups, plane manufacturers and other government agencies. Once established, the representatives will meet for six months and eventually give suggestions to the FAA about what devices are safe to use onboard and when they can be used.

The group will not discuss cell phone use in the air, which is banned by the FCC because of the potential for interference with wireless networks on the ground. The other rules for gadget use on planes are established by the FAA, including a ban against the use of personal electronics during takeoff and landing, when the plane is below 10,000 feet. Electronic health devices such as hearing aids and pacemakers are allowed at all times.

The FAA regulations can be frustrating to passengers, but they are in place to prevent interference with planes’ communication and navigation systems.

While there hasn’t been any conclusive proof that devices such as tablets and e-readers are a danger, a study last year found 75 instances of interference that may have been related to personal electronic devices.

While Thursday’s FCC letter doesn’t reveal anything new about the process, the reaction in the news and on social networks is telling.

People are eager for the FAA and airlines to catch up with the latest technology. They want to read their Kindles during take-off, listen to soothing music on smartphones in airplane mode during turbulence and silence fussy children with cartoons on 7-inch tablets.

By Heather Kelly

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