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CASA clears way for unconnected tablet use gate to gate

No. The Masters of the Universe and other loud and important mobile phone users are not about to be allowed to use them all the way from the lounge to the flight and then on it to a

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FAA Infographic on inflight PED use

No. The Masters of the Universe and other loud and important mobile phone users are not about to be allowed to use them all the way from the lounge to the flight and then on it to another city!

Statement phone flourishers will just have to hold on to their horses, or whatever, for some time to come.

However airline passengers in Australia are much closer to being able to use their tablets, smart phones and other light and compact  PEDs or personal electronic devices from gate to gate under revised CASA regulations.

However such devices will not for the time being be allowed to go on line to handle voice calls, email or general internet use on such a gate to gate basis.

The publication of the new arrangements and procedures for approving PED use on this limited basis brings Australia part of the way to where the US and European air safety authorities already are.

However hold your tablets and PEDs for the time being. Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Tigerair, REX, AirNorth and all have to convince CASA that they have ticked all the boxes, which are set out in the document linked to in this post.

Perhaps most importantly for air safety, CASA’s requirements also cover the need for cabin crew training to deal with lithium battery fires in such devices, although the major carriers already take that risk very seriously.

(Earlier this month on a Singapore Airlines A380 the writer saw cabin crew quickly deploy an extendable metal tube to free a passenger’s dropped tablet from a gap in a fully reclined sleeper seat to prevent any risk that it might be crushed and burst into flames had the bed been brought to a fully upright position in order to better get at the device.

There have been several instances in recent months of fires in cabins being caused by electronic devices crushed in seats in this manner.)

The constant connectivity that some passengers might want for their tablets, laptops and PEDs  is only available on airliners where proprietary inflight internet connections are available, usually for a fee, and only above a fixed altitude, usually 10,000 feet, as announced by cabin crew.

This includes the widespread use of the internet this way on Emirates, Etihad and some Singapore Airlines flights in Australian airspace.

The obstacle to previous Qantas trials of inflight PED use for checking emails on devices like Blackberries and iPhones  being made permanent appears to be commercial.  The telcos and the airlines in general haven’t agreed on how to divide the money, or who pays for what.

The equipment needed is expensive, the rules for its approval are complex, and the question as to whether enough demand exists at a particular price point to make all of the above worth doing has not so far come up with the right answers.

The use of smart phones and other devices this way in the US is inherently cheaper for those systems that connect to ground networks overflown by aircraft.  However there are large parts of Australia where the necessary ground networks for such systems don’t exist, meaning the links have to be done via satellite, which is inherently more costly as this stage (although some communications writers say this may not continue to be the case for much longer.)

All of which means the days of seamlessly leaving your device on and connected all the way from one city to another regardless of whether you are in a train, a taxi, or an airliner, have come a little bit closer, but there is still a long way to go.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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