U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is refusing to turn off and stow her effort to reevaluate rules restricting in-flight use of portable electronic devices [PEDs], telling the nation's air travel chief today that she will begin drafting legislation to loosen the restrictions.
In December, McCaskill wrote to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta, telling him that she would look at legislative solutions if his agency delayed a reconsideration of restrictions. Today, after a response from the agency that McCaskill deemed "concerning," she criticized Huerta for his "lack of direct engagement" on the issue.
"...[G]iven my concerns with the agency's lack of commitment to adopt changes to the current PED rules, I am beginning to draft legislation," McCaskill wrote in her response. "In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with various stakeholders to receive input on the issue, and I will be working with my colleagues to build bipartisan support for action in Congress."
McCaskill's previous letter to Huerta highlighted the flaws in the existing rules by pointing out that the FAA already allows airlines to replace their paper flight manuals in the cockpit with tablet computers. Current rules do not allow passengers to use PEDs for the full duration of a flight. Other government officials, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, have also urged the FAA to change the current rules regarding PED use.
Last week, McCaskill met directly with Genachowski to discuss a variety of issues, including expanded use of PEDs.
McCaskill has served on the Senate Committee on Commerce since joining the Senate in 2007, which has jurisdiction over aviation and communications policy, and this year was named Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.
March 7, 2013
The Honorable Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Administrator Huerta:
Thank you for your February 12, 2013, response to my December 11, 2012, letter regarding the in-flight use of portable electronic devices (PEDs). I appreciate the interest you expressed in taking a fresh look at the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) current rules on the matter and the actions you have taken toward that end. However, I remain concerned by your lack of direct engagement and that of the FAA more generally on this issue.
As I noted in my earlier letter, establishing the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that is currently reviewing the issue of in-flight PEDs represents an important step toward revising the FAA's long-standing and outdated rules on the issue. I look forward to reviewing the ARC's recommendations this summer. However, we both know far more must be done.
I am concerned that relying on the ARC to drive change on this issue creates the potential for the process to drag on indefinitely. Many stakeholders have entrenched positions on this issue and have long resisted commonsense changes to the PED rules. Ultimately, it will be up to the FAA, and you as its Administrator, to provide leadership, make a decision and compel the needed changes to the current rules. With this in mind, I was disappointed by the lack of commitment to the matter in your response.
Of course, safety must be the first consideration in any matter involving air travel. But the general public and many in Congress, certainly myself included, long ago rejected the idea that the current PED rules are any longer about safety. I am confident that when the agency looks at what makes sense for safety, for the limited resources of aircraft cabin crews to enforce rules, and for consumer satisfaction, it will have no choice but to act quickly to revise the current rules in order to allow expanded use of PEDs in flight.
You raised the issue of in-flight cellular communications. To be clear, I am not currently advocating for the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight. Simply put, electronic devices that are currently allowed above 10,000 feet should be allowed for use during all phases of flight. It is preposterous to think that an e-reader in a passenger's hands during takeoff is anymore a threat to other passengers or crew members than a hardback book.
In general, I recognize the value of this issue being handled through a collaborative, thoughtful rulemaking process. And the FAA should continue to have the flexibility to adapt to technological advances in both portable electronic devices and aircraft equipment. However, given my concerns with the agency's lack of commitment to adopt changes to the current PED rules, I am beginning to draft legislation. In the coming weeks, I will be calling in various stakeholders to receive input on the issue, and I will be working with my colleagues to build bipartisan support for action in Congress.
As the ARC process moves forward I hope to see greater leadership from you and the FAA generally in driving changes to the PED rules. In addition to pursuing change legislatively, I stand ready to help you in any way I can to finally see commonsense changes to the FAA's policy on in-flight PEDs implemented.