Low Visibility at Night

Cartoon: iPhone App, from Chris Manno.

Eddie Sez:

Back in the old days all we had was an obscure statement in each regulation (91, 121, 125, and 135) that said hearing aids, pacemakers, portable voice recorders, and shavers were okay, anything else had to be approved by the operator. So in Part 91 operations the PIC, with or without any technical expertise, made the call. For commercial operators, it was up to the company. Those CFRs were first put into writing in 1966 and have been pretty much unchanged until 2013.

In 2006 things got a little better with the publication of Advisory Circular 91-21.1B, which provided the once industry-wide standard of keeping everything shut off until 10,000 feet.

In 2013 the FAA commissioned an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to provide further guidance on allowing additional Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) and they issued a report that did just that. The report does a very good job of detailing the level of interference expected on various aircraft systems. Here's a quick summary:

  1. If your aircraft has a manufacturer or STC installed WiFi system, aircraft system testing has already been completed.

  2. Most aircraft avionics — ADF, HF, datalink, marker beacons, DME, transponders, ADS-B, TCAS, GPS, SATCOM, radio altimeter, and weather radar — are very unlikely to suffer from PED interference.

  3. ILS and VOR systems are okay down to Cat I minimums if backed up by other navigation systems and the crew is trained to deal with possible interference (go around).

  4. Operators need to consider stowage requirements during some phases of flight.

  5. Operators need to standardize their policies to remove confusion among passengers.

This gives us all, Part 91 and commercial operators, a better basis for making risk assessments and setting PED policies. I've included our company's policies, Incognito Air, as an example. We borrowed heavily from Delta Airlines in an attempt to achieve requirement 5 above. Our focus when it comes to allowing PED usage on the airplane is:

  1. The PED must not become a dangerous projectile or hinder egress from the aircraft in an emergency situation.

  2. The PED must not interfere with aircraft communications, navigation, or any other onboard electrical systems.

  3. The PED must adhere to current FAA and FCC regulations, the ban against transmitting in particular.

What follows are from the references below. My comments appear in blue.

U.S. Regulations

General Operating and Flight Rules

[14 CFR 91, §91.21] Portable electronic devices.

  1. Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any of the following U.S.-registered civil aircraft:
    1. Aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate; or

    2. Any other aircraft while it is operated under IFR.
  2. Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to—
    1. Portable voice recorders;

    2. (2) Hearing aids;

    3. (3) Heart pacemakers;

    4. Electric shavers;

    5. Any other portable electronic device that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.
  3. In the case of an aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate, the determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that operator of the aircraft on which the particular device is to be used. In the case of other aircraft, the determination may be made by the pilot in command or other operator of the aircraft.

Note: there is similar language in 14 CFR 121, §121.306, 14 CFR 125, §125.204, and 14 CFR 135, §135.144.

If you are flying for a commercial operator, your company makes the determination of what is okay and what isn't. If you are operating under 14 CFR 91, it is up to the pilot in command. Keep in mind you may be asked what qualifications you have to make that determination.


[47 CFR 22, §22.925] Prohibition on airborne operation of cellular telephones. Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off. The following notice must be posted on or near each cellular telephone installed in any aircraft: "The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a fine. The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the ground is subject to FAA regulations."

There is talk that this prohibition may be adjusted but as of March 2014, it is still in place.

Advisory Circular 91-21.1B

[Advisory Circular 91-21.1B, ¶5.]

[Advisory Circular 91-21.1B, ¶6.] If an operator allows the use of PEDs aboard its aircraft, procedures should be established and spelled out clearly to control their use during passenger-carrying operations. The procedures, when used in conjunction with an operator's program, should provide the following:

  1. Methods to inform passengers of permissible times, conditions, and limitations when various PEDs may be used. This may be accomplished through the departure briefing, passenger information cards, captain's announcement, and other methods deemed appropriate by the operator. For air carrier operations conducted under 14 CFR part 121 or part 135, the limitations, as a minimum, should state that use of all such devices (except certain inaccessible medical electronic devices, for example, heart pacemakers) are prohibited during any phase of operation when their use could interfere with the communication or navigation equipment on board the aircraft or the ability of the flight crew to give necessary instructions in the event of an emergency.

  2. Procedures to terminate the operation of PEDs suspected of causing interference with aircraft systems.

  3. Procedures for reporting instances of suspected or confirmed interferences by a PED to a local FAA Flight Standards District Office or the FSDO that has certificate management responsibility for the air carrier.

  4. Cockpit to cabin coordination and cockpit flight crew monitoring procedures.

  5. Procedures for determining non-interference acceptability of those PEDs to be operated aboard its aircraft. Acceptable PEDs should be clearly spelled out in oral departure briefings and by written material provided to each passenger to avoid passenger confusion. The operator of the aircraft must make the determination of the effects of a particular PED on the navigation and communication systems of the aircraft on which it is to be operated. The operation of a PED is prohibited, unless the device is specifically listed in section 91.21(b)(1) through (4). However, even if the device is an exception from the general prohibition on the use of PEDs, an operator may prohibit use of that PED. The use of all other PEDs is prohibited by regulation, unless pursuant to section 91.21(b)(5). The operator is responsible for making the final determination that the operation of that device will not interfere with the communication or navigation system of the aircraft on which it is to be operated.

  6. Prohibiting the operation of any PEDs during the takeoff and landing phases of flight. It must be recognized that the potential for personal injury to passengers is a paramount consideration, as well as is the possibility of missing significant safety announcements during important phases of flight. This prohibition is in addition to lessening the possible interference that may arise during sterile cockpit operations (below 10,000 feet).

You could do all this and come up with a viable PED policy. We started this process using only domestic flights and started to build the program. Fortunately, things have gotten easier. (See Aviation Rule Making Committee (ARC) Report, below.

[Advisory Circular 91-21.1B, ¶7.] T-PEDs [Transmitting PEDs] have considerations in addition to those listed in paragraph 6. These include cellular telephones, citizens band radios, remote control devices, computers with wireless network capabilities, and other wireless-enabled devices such as PDAs, etc. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently prohibits the use of cell phones while airborne. The FAA supports this airborne restriction for other reasons of potential interference to aircraft systems and equipment. Currently, the FAA does not prohibit the use of certain cell phones in aircraft while on the ground.

The primary FCC objection to transmitting PED usage in flight is that they would have greatly increased range and may pose interference problems with other systems beyond the aircraft itself.

Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) Report


[ARC Report, page ix.]

Much of the report is devoted to requiring airplanes and their avionics be made more PED tolerant and for an update to AC 91-21.1B, Use of PEDs Aboard Aircraft.


[ARC Report, page 3.] A Portable Electronic Device (PED) is any piece of lightweight, electrically-powered equipment. These devices are typically consumer electronics devices functionally capable of communications, data processing and/or utility. Examples of PEDs include, but are not limited to, the following commonly manufactured devices: laptop computers; personal communication devices such as hand-held smart phones, tablet computers, media players, e-readers, and personal digital assistants; gaming and entertainment devices; medical and other healthcare assistive devices such as pacemakers and hearing aids; asset trackers; data collection and monitoring devices; inventory management and point-of-sale devices; wearable computers and other devices that may or may not incorporate wireless transmitters and receivers.

Risk Assessment

[ARC Report, page 25.] The ARC recommends that in revising AC 91-21.1B (and any associated guidance), the FAA adopt the following methodology for expanding PED usage by passengers to all phases of flight. In particular, the FAA should immediately amend/revise current regulatory guidance documents to provide a methodology by which operators can permit PED usage by passengers during all phases of flight, using one of the following two methods:

A "back door" effect is when interference enters the system through aircraft cables, wires, and other possible entrances other than the antennas. A "front door" effect is when the PED is emitting on the same frequencies aircraft systems are receiving.

Low Visibility at Night

Figure: Phase of Flight, from ARC Report, Figure 2.

[ARC Report, page 26.] Pursuant to this method, operators may permit passenger use of typical PEDs as follows:

  1. During any of the following phases:
    •  1  Parked: Passenger boarding and seating to door close.

    •  2  Taxi Out: Push back, taxi from gate to (but not including on) the runway.

    •  4  Climb: From 'transition to climb altitude' and/or gear retraction to en route altitude.

    •  5  Cruise: From en route altitude to beginning of descent with intent to land.

    •  6  Descent: From beginning of descent to the initiation of the approach.

    •  8  Landing and Taxi to Gate: Begins at airplane touchdown, and concludes when airplane is parked for passenger unloading.
  2.  3  Take-off and Departure: During this phase if a qualitative safety risk assessment is accomplished, and controls and mitigations are in place.

  3.  7  Approach: During this phase in visual approaches.

  4.  7  Approach: During this phase on instrument landings in visual meteorological conditions if a qualitative safety risk assessment is accomplished, and controls and mitigations are in place.

  5.  7  Approach: During this phase on instrument landings in CAT I conditions if qualitative safety risk assessment is accomplished, and controls and mitigations are in place.

  6.  7  Approach: During this phase on instrument landings in CAT II or CAT III conditions if testing and analysis shows that systems with Major, Hazardous, or Catastrophic failure conditions are determined PED tolerant.

These are recommendations that you can adopt, but you need to do a risk assessment first. More on that below.


[ARC Report, page 34.]

[ARC Report, Appendix G, ¶1.4.] To stow an item, according to one dictionary definition, is "to put (something that is not being used) in a place where it is available, where it can be kept safely, etc."52 Stowage, therefore, is simply a "space especially on a ship or airplane for stowing things."53 For purposes of this report, a stowage location on an airplane is generally one that is approved for stowage by the operator, and placarded with a maximum weight restriction. If an item is located in a place that lacks formal operator approval or a maximum weight placard, but where it is considered, in the judgment of the operator, that in a survivable incident (e.g., severe turbulence during a critical phase of flight) the item is unlikely to threaten any occupant's safety (e.g., restricting egress from a seat during an emergency evacuation) or lead to one or more injuries, this report refers to that item's condition as "secure". Some factors that help determine the relative safety of a secure location include the size, shape, and weight of the passenger's item, as well as the holding properties of the location itself.

[ARC Report, Appendix G, ¶2.2.6.] FAA Policy Statement No. ANM–02–115–20, dated November 21, 2002, consolidates and clarifies "certification policy for addressing potential hazards associated with the installation of corded electrical devices used in the passenger cabin." 65 Specific sections of 14 CFR Part 25 design regulations are cited that require passageways leading from main aisles to various types of exit doors, between individual passenger areas, and cross aisles between main aisles, be unobstructed.

Risk Assessment

[ARC Report, Appendix F.] The ARC has determined that in order to expand PED use to certain phases of flight, an assessment of the risks must be made. To assist operators in making the safety determination, the FAA will develop a risk assessment based on the information and data available at this time. This paper outlines the approach used to establish the safety risk assessment, documents the assumptions and provides operators with a base lined risk assessment that they can use when developing their PED allowance usage policy.

Conducting a technical risk assessment is certainly beyond the scope of most corporate operators. Appendix F of the ARC Report does give some guidance, however, when it comes to setting an operator's policy on the phases of flight PED usage can be considered safe.

[ARC Report, Appendix F, ¶4] Hazard Identification

FAA Updated (2013) Recommendations

[InFO 13010]

[InFO 13010]

Does this apply to most of us in the corporate world? No, not really. But you should consider it.

Incognito Air PED Policy

We instituted this policy based on the avionics suite of our aircraft (WiFi installed demonstrates RTCA DO-307 compliance), triple FMS backed up with GPS avionics) and our single aisle configuration with no seat blocked by another. We aligned the policy as best we could with Delta Airlines just as a measure of standardization so our passengers would be not be surprised by our policies.


14 CFR 1, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, Definitions and Abbreviations, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

14 CFR 91, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, General Operating and Flight Rules, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

14 CFR 121, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, Operating Requirements: Domestic, Flag, and Supplemental Operations, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

14 CFR 125, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, Certification and Operations: Airplanes Having a Seating Capacity of 20 or More Passengers or a Maximum Payload Capacity of 6,000 Pounds or More; and Rules Governing Persons on Board Such Aircraft, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

14 CFR 135, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, Operating Requirements: Commuter and On Demand Operations and Rules Governing Persons on Board Such Aircraft, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

47 CFR 22, Tile 47: Telecommunication, Federal Communications Commission

Delta Airlines Personal Electronic Devices Policy

A Report from the Portable Electronic Devices (PED) Aviation Rule Making Committee (ARC) to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), September 30, 2013

Advisory Circular 91-21.1B, Use of Portable Electronic Devices Aboard Aircraft, 8/25/06, Department of Transportation

Information for Operators (InFO) 13010 Expanding Use of Passenger Portable Electronic Devices (PED), 10/31/13, U.S. Department of Transportation

Information for Operators (InFO) 14006 Prohibition on Personal Use of Electronic Devices on the Flight Deck, 5/20/14, U.S. Department of Transportation