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Who decides if PEDs can be used during a flight?

If you are an experienced air traveler, then you know to expect the customary notice against the use of portable electronic devices every time you board a plane in Manhattan. Ask people why this notice is given, and you may hear answers ranging from it is simply to protect airlines from property damage claims to PEDs can cause a plane's electrical system to fail. In reality, the reason the use of PEDs during a flight is discouraged is that there is concern that they may interfere with an aircraft's navigation or communication systems. 

Up until recently, the Code of Federal Regulations only allowed the following PEDs to be used during a flight: 

  • Voice recorders 
  • Hearing aids
  • Electric shavers 
  • Pacemakers

If a device was determined to not present the potential of interfering with a plane's communication or navigation systems, it was also technically allowable. The trouble was that few (if any) people actually knew if that was the case with most standard devices. 

In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration commissioned a study into the potential of permitting the expanded use of PEDs on commercial aircraft. In results revealed later that year, the FAA determined that most planes could safely withstand the radio interference generated by standard PEDs such as smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and MP3 players. The onus was put on the individual airlines, however, to determine whether an aircraft was PED tolerant. After making that determination, the airline could decide if you and other passengers would be permitted to use such devices during a flight. Thus, if a PED were to cause issues with a plane's navigation or communication systems that resulted in an incident, liability would likely be with the airline if it is shown that the aircraft involved was not certified as being PED tolerant. 

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