FAA’s lift on in-flight mobile use spells good news for airlines


Delta’s iPad app

The Federal Aviation Administration has finally announced a statement that lets consumers use their mobile devices below 10,000 feet in the air, opening up new opportunities for airlines in mobile.

The rule is only approved for flights within the United States, so consumers traveling internationally will still be required to power down their mobile devices during takeoff and landing.Delta Air Lines and JetBlue are two of the first airline to submit its plan to the FAA in allowing consumers to leave their mobile devices on through all parts of traveling.

Weve heard from customers that its something that they wanted to do, but weve needed to comply with the FAA rules, said Paul Skrbec, spokesman for Delta, Atlanta.

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From the very beginning, we have been cooperating with the FAA to bring forth this change in rule, he said.

Smooth sailing
Delta has more than 570 mainline domestic airplanes ready that allow consumers to use mobile phones, tablets and ereaders during all parts of a flight. Devices heavier than two pounds are still required to be stowed during takeoff and landing.

Travelers are required to switch their devices into airplane mode once the boarding door has been closed since cellular network services are not allowed by the Federal Communications Commission.

While on the ground, consumers are not allowed to use cellular services so that flight attendants can prepare the plane for take off and landing.

By the end of the year, more than 550 regional airplanes from Delta Connection will also be approved.

For Delta, the initiative builds on the significant investments that the company has put into in-flight Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is available on 800 airplanes, which Delta claims makes the company the largest fleet with in-flight Internet.

Delta’s iPad app

FAA regulations prohibiting electronic devices below 10,000 feet in the air have remained the same since the 1960s.

However, the quick growth in mobile adoption in the past few years have made it increasingly difficult for airlines to keep up with consumers that are attached to their devices every second.

Delta began compiling information about flights in January 2010 and collected data from 2.3 million flights by Oct. 30, 2012 for the FAA. 

In that time span, there were 27 individual reports of interference of electronic devices with an aircraft. Follow-up testing and investigations were not able to confirm that a passenger using an electronic device caused the interferences.

Building up for takeoff
Delta has launched several new mobile efforts and products in the past year to gear up for the eventual roll-out of approved mobile usage on planes.

In August, the airline equipped 19,000 flight attendants with Microsoft devices to accept cashless payments onboard (see story).

The company is also replacing paper manuals with Microsoft Surface 2 tablets to help pilots from lugging around a 38-pound bag with books and maps.

Additionally, Delta rolled out an interactive consumer-facing iPad app in January that pulls up relevant in-flight information about the places that the plane is traveling over (see story). 

With consumers now able to use their mobile devices in-air closer to the ground, there are some interesting marketing opportunities for airlines with in-flight Wi-Fi.

For example, a car rental advertiser could serve a mobile ad with a time-sensitive offer over the airlines Wi-Fi network just before a plane landed to target consumers looking for an on-the-spot car rental.

However, Delta says that the new rule will not impact the companys other in-flight mobile efforts.

This rule does not change the utility from our crew, Mr. Skrbec said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York

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