JetBlue and Delta file plans to expand PED usage

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JetBlue and Delta Air Lines are both vying to become the first US carrier allow passengers to use portable electronic devices (PEDs) from take-off to landing.

Both carriers have submitted plans to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the new guidance, which will allow US carriers to permit passengers to use their tablets, e-readers and smartphones from gate to gate in airplane mode on most flights. But before passengers can switch on the devices below 10,000ft, the FAA must approve individual plans from each airline to implement the new procedures.

Delta Air Lines says that its more than 570 mainline domestic aircraft could be cleared to fly with the new policies as soon as 1 November. It expects to expand that to the more than 550 regional aircraft operated by its nine Delta Connection regional partners by the end of the year. The Atlanta-based carrier says it has already completed the entire scope of PED tolerance testing on its fleet.

“We have completed all of the required testing for our fleet,” a Delta spokesperson tells Flightglobal.

Due to international regulations, the expanded PED usage may not apply to flights that do not begin or end outside of the 50 US states, says Delta.

New York-based JetBlue states in a news release that it is positioning to be the first airline to offer the expanded use of PEDs. The low-cost carrier tells Flightglobal that it hopes the FAA will grant approval for its plan as early as this afternoon.

"We intend to be the first commercial airline in the United States to allow gate-to-gate use of personal electronics devices,” says Robin Hayes, JetBlue's chief commercial officer, in a statement. “To support that goal, we began the certification process with the FAA today."

The FAA declines to comment on the airlines' new PED plans.

The new policy does not permit voice calls via cellular networks, which is prohibited under US Federal Communications Commission regulations.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta announced the relaxed guidance this morning at a press conference in Washington, which is based on recommendations from a PED aviation rulemaking committee that included representatives from both JetBlue and Delta.

Kirk Thornburg, Delta's managing director, aviation safety and assurance, serves as chairman of the PED committee. JetBlue's Capt. Chuck Cook, manager fleet programmes and technology at JetBlue Airways, led a subcommittee within the group. Joining them were systems suppliers and groups representing flight attendants, passengers and the electronics industry.

The FAA first announced it would form the ARC in August 2012 to make recommendations about expanding the use of PEDs throughout all phases of flight and officially established the group in January. The ARC was originally scheduled to complete talks by the end of July, but members requested more time to further address some topics, including creating guidance materials for airlines to perform a safety risk assessment against critical flight systems, as well as drafting materials to help operators create policies for stowing PEDs. It submitted the final recommendations to the FAA on 30 September.