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Tablets at takeoff: FAA eases rules on devices, but please, hold the calls. (+video)

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(Read caption) FAA now allows portable electronic devices on board
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Plane travelers’ entertainment options during takeoffs and landings have now expanded beyond feigning sleep or perusing SkyMall.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Thursday that airline passengers will be allowed to use portable electronic devices during “all phases of flight,” provided that the airline can demonstrate that the devices pose no risk to their aircrafts and that the device is in “airplane mode.” Using cellphones to make calls will still be banned between departure and arrival gates.

The announcement was made after months of FAA-ordered expert review of its policy on the use of laptops, iPods and other electronic devices during flights. FAA regulations had banned use of the devices during taxiing and while flying below 10,000 feet.

In January, the FAA had established a 28-member advisory committee to review its regulations on portable electronic devices. In recent years, criticism of the administration’s ban had mounted, as gadget-fans noted that the regulation dates to 1966 and was based on studies between 1958 and 1961 showing that radio waves could muddle a plane’s navigation system. Some five decades ago, planes’ insulation against radio waves was far less sophisticated, and there has since been no hard evidence to support the idea that a tablet could bring down a plane, critics said.

"We're flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011,” the Toby Zeigler character quipped in the 1999 pilot episode of "The West Wing." “Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system, and you're telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?"

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