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Debate continues over electronic gadgets on planes

By CNN Staff
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FAA formed group in August to study issue, make suggestions
  • Use of electronic devices is banned when planes are landing, taking off
  • Advocates say they don't present safety issues
  • Flight attendants, others say the flight crew needs your attention at certain times

(CNN) -- Tablets, laptops, e-readers, smartphones.

They keep us plugged in everywhere we go, except when we're on a plane.

Many travelers don't believe there is anything wrong with leaving their personal electronic devices on while in flight, but it's a no-no during takeoffs and landings.

In August, the Federal Aviation Administration announced plans for a working group that would study the issue of portable electronics on flights and make suggestions for changes. The committee is due to report its findings this summer.

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Advocates say it's time for a change.

"It certainly appears that using an electronic device to read a magazine, to read a newspaper is not a safety factor," said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association.

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Using personal electronic devices below 10,000 feet is banned on most airlines. Electronic health devices such as hearing aids and pacemakers are allowed at all times.

Anyone who flies could tell you how often the rule is ignored, but it's announced before every flight.

While many airlines now offer Wi-Fi access via portable electronic devices from laptops to smartphones, cellular voice and data services on domestic airlines fall under that Federal Communications Commission ban.

There hasn't been any conclusive proof that devices such as tablets and e-readers are a danger, but a study released in 2011 found 75 instances of interference that may have been related to personal electronic devices, However, it is difficult to verify pilots' suspicions because of the difficulty replicating incidents.

The FAA has said it does not know of any aviation accidents linked to interference from personal electronic devices.

Flight attendants say it's a matter of getting your attention during the most sensitive parts of the flight.

"If someone is listening to their music or they're watching a video, and they've got their beats on or their noise-canceling headphones, we want to make sure that, if there is a situation that passengers need to hear and understand, that they will be able to do so," said Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

The National Association of Airline Passengers agrees that unplugging for a few minutes is a small price to pay for safety.

"So we do not as passengers want to do anything that will interfere or distract the pilots at this critical time of the flight," said Douglas Kidd, the organization's executive director.

The pressure is to bring the rules up to date with the proliferation of electronic devices. Even the FCC recommended the increased use of some electronic devices.

"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 an August letter.

Delta Air Lines is also on record urging the FAA to expand the use of electronic devices in flight but to limit cell phone calls to the ground only.

There is congressional pressure for change as well. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri says the restrictions threaten to undermine public confidence in the FAA. The agency already allows pilots to use electronic tablets in the cockpit.

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 ban has been in place for more than 20 years.

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CNN's David Mattingly contributed to this report.

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