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08/28/2012

FAA to review in-flight gadget use

The U.S. authority that regulates all aspects of air travel is going to re-examine the use of tech gadgets aboard commercial aircraft.

According to TechCrunch, the Federal Aviation Authority, better known to flight enthusiasts as the FAA, is going to put together a group to study the issue of using your phone or laptop in the midst of a flight.

While it's not immediately clear who is going to be in said "group," it's fair to say it'll include everyone from pilots who have to fly the multi-million dollar birds to Internet pundits and scientists in lab coats with instruments that beep and bop.

This group, it seems, is going to check out existing rules that ban the use of many types of gadgets while flying in a plane. They're also going to check out the ways experts test to determine what can - and can't - be used from the confines of tray tables in midair.

Fortunately for those of us who value the calm and tranquillity of jet engines over the ability to talk to your BFF halfway through your flight, the FAA says in-air use of cellphones for voice calls is still out of the question.

But it seems they will be paying attention to the use of Internet aboard passenger jets, with the potential for me to post this blog right away as I tap my keyboard at 36,000 feet aboard an Airbus A-320.

Granted, some airlines offer a Wi-Fi Internet connection to passengers during flights, but these web connections are shared amongst other passengers. And the performance isn't always jet-speed fast, as several users vie for bandwidth, creating the networking equivalent of cars coming to a set of traffic lights at an intersection - traffic gets through, just not quickly.

The pilots I've spoken to say aircraft systems (most modern planes are just machines controlled by computers) are shielded enough to block out signal interference caused by personal tech gadgets. After all, planes should be smarter than to be thrown off by strange signals sent from your new iPhone.

But what one pilot said bothers him is the interference he hears in his headset, the annoying morse-code-like tones that his crew hears when a cellphone is trying to call out to a tower for signal.

Should you be allowed to use your phone or tablet to access data while flying?

- Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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