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In-flight gadget limits on passengers may ease

An FAA panel was to make recommendations on easing restrictions on electronic devices on airplanes next month, but the deadline has been extended to September.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press/File

An FAA panel was to make recommendations on easing restrictions on electronic devices on airplanes next month, but the deadline has been extended to September.

WASHINGTON — The government is moving toward easing restrictions on airline passengers using electronic devices to listen to music, play games, read books, watch movies, and work during takeoffs and landings, but it could take a few months.

An industry-labor advisory committee was supposed to make recommendations next month to the Federal Aviation Administration on easing the restrictions. But the agency said in a statement Friday the deadline has been extended to September because committee members asked for extra time to finish assessing whether it’s safe to lift restrictions.

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‘‘The FAA recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft; that is why we tasked a government-industry group to examine the safety issues and the feasibility of changing the current restrictions,’’ the statement said.

The agency is under public and political pressure to ease the restrictions as more people bring their e-book readers, music and video players, smartphones, and laptops with them when they fly.

Technically, the FAA doesn’t bar use of electronic devices when aircraft are below 10,000 feet. But under FAA rules, airlines that want to let passengers use the devices are faced with a practical impossibility — they would have to show that they’ve tested every type and make of device passengers would use to ensure there is no electromagnetic interference with aircraft radios and electrical and electronic systems.

As a result, US airlines simply bar all electric device use below 10,000 feet. Airline accidents are most likely to occur during takeoffs, landings, and taxiing.

Cellphone calls and Internet use and transmissions are also prohibited, and those restrictions are not expected to be lifted. Using cellphones to make calls on planes is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

There is concern that making calls from fast-flying planes might strain cellular systems, interfering with service on the ground. There is also the potential annoyance factor — whether passengers will be unhappy if they have to listen to other passengers yakking on the phone.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that a draft report by the advisory committee indicates its 28 members have reached a consensus that at least some of the current restrictions should be eased.

A member of the committee who asked not to be named because the committee’s deliberations are supposed to be kept private said that while the draft report is an attempt to reach consensus, no formal agreement has yet been reached.

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