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FAA OKs More In-Flight Use Of Electronic Gadgets

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Good news for air travelers who can't get enough of their electronic devices: The FAA is relaxing rules on their use aboard airliners.

AUDIE CORNISH: Travelers on Delta and other airlines today got some news that many have been waiting to hear. The government now says people no longer have to turn off their portable electronic devices during takeoffs and landings. The announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration ends years of debate over the in-flight safety of e-readers and tablets, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Prodded by passenger complaints and lawmakers who threatened legislation to force the FAA to act, the agency followed through on recommendations by an advisory group to allow the expanded use of the devices. FAA administrator Michael Huerta made the announcement at Reagan National Airport outside Washington.

MICHAEL HUERTA, ADMINISTRATOR, FAA: There's a lot of consumer interest. These regulations have been around for a long time. And in that period of time, technology has evolved both in aircraft, as well as the devices that passengers use. And we felt as an agency that it really is important for us to take a fresh look at what these rules are and are there things that we could do.

NAYLOR: Under the new rules, passengers will no longer have to shut off the devices when their aircraft is below 10,000 feet as long as they're in airplane mode, that is the cellular signal is turned off. Cellphone use will continue to be barred, but smartphones are OK, again, as long as they're in airplane mode. Laptop computers, however, will still have to be stowed on takeoff and landing because of their greater weight. It will be up to the airlines to determine when the new rules go into effect.

A moment ago, we heard from Delta CEO Richard Anderson. He says Delta, which was involved in the advisory committee's testing, is ready to allow the devices as soon as tomorrow.

RICHARD ANDERSON: Our analysis has shown that it's entirely safe to operate your portable electronic device, you know, during those stages of flight that it's been in the past prohibited. So we're looking forward to giving that to our customers.

NAYLOR: The FAA says passengers will still be expected to pay attention to flight attendant's announcements of safety procedures and there may be rare instances when airline crews will order devices to be shut off, including some landings in reduced visibility. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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