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U.S. decision delayed on easing gadget use on airplanes

A line of passengers wait to enter the security checkpoint before boarding their aircraft at Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 25
A line of passengers wait to enter the security checkpoint before boarding their aircraft at Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 25

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel weighing whether to ease restrictions on in-flight use of personal technology devices like e-readers has delayed its recommendations by two months until late September, the FAA said on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing industry officials and a draft copy of the panel's report, said on Friday that the group will recommend relaxing restrictions on electronic gadgets.

The advisory panel was supposed to finish its work by July 31 but was granted a two-month extension to continue examining whether the use of electronic and WiFi enabled devices, such as iPods, laptops, e-readers and other gadgets, would be safe to use through takeoff and landing and at altitudes under 10,000 feet.

The panel is not examining any change in the use of cell phones in flight, which is banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FAA said it recognizes that consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics on aircraft.

"Basically the panel is looking at a range of portable electronic devices, including computers and portable cameras," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said. "What the panel was not charged with was the use of voice communications."

Airlines have long told travelers not to use iPods, music players, laptops and other gadgets during takeoffs and landings.

NBC News reported that the recommendations are likely to call for allowing passengers to use devices such as electronic readers throughout a flight, and that FAA officials are likely to adopt the change.

Current restrictions grew out of concerns they may pose a safety hazard by interfering with radio frequencies and disrupting aircraft systems. The Wall Street Journal said the draft report says aircraft are now more tolerant of interference and the personal devices emit weaker signals.

"Wireless devices and cell phones should be seen in two different categories because cell phones use higher radio frequency and have a much higher potential of interfering with airplane instruments," said Daniel Stancil, the department head of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who has extensively researched passenger use of electronics on planes.

Getting more time with technology while traveling sounded "great" to frequent airline passenger Ike Bethel, 34, of Fairfax, Virginia.

"It would make flying 100 percent better. Now just add the charging stations," he said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Victoria Cavaliere in New York; Editing by Eric Beech and Tim Dobbyn)

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