MIAMI — The FAA announced that it would loosen rules on electronics use in-flight at a press conference in Washington DC on Thursday. The new guidelines will allow passengers to use most electronics from gate to gate. The decision follows a report from an FAA advisory group that came out in late September recommending the changes.

The change has prompted a race among US airlines to see who can implement the new rules first. JetBlue had initially confirmed that they could receive approval as soon as Thursday afternoon (same day), while Delta has also confirmed that they are “ready to go”. Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec told Airchive that “all of our aircraft have gone through all of the testings and completed [the process]”. When asked about a timeline, Skrbev said that the “the [FAA] has asserted from the very beginning that they need to see all plans for approval…[which] could be today, could be tomorrow.”

While announcing the change earlier today, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta noted that “a lot has changed in the last fifty years” since the original ban on electronics went into effect. Passengers will now be able to utilize personal electronic devices (PED) as soon as airlines can implement the new policy. The lifting of the ban includes everything from e-readers to short-range Bluetooth devices, tablets to smartphones. The ban voice calls and internet connections, however, will remain in effect. Up until now, use of such devices was not allowed below 10,000 feet and during take-off and landing.

Larger items, such as laptops and books must either be held or placed in the seat-back pocket during takeoff and landing. Heavier items may still be required to be stowed,  addressing safety concerns. It was also noted that, in rare cases of low-visibility, the crew has the option of requesting that all devices be turned off.

Though the ban has been lifted, folks cannot whip out electronics any time they please just yet. Airlines must complete a safety assessment with the FAA and update their PED policy to receive approval. Airlines can also choose not to implement the policy, though that seems unlikely.

The original prohibition was set into place decades ago, a response to concerns of interference with navigation equipment and communications on the flight deck. The ban had covered anything that had an on/off switch, whether they ‘transmitted’ or not. As electronics both on the flight deck and in the cabin have improved the rule became viewed as increasingly arcane.

As Huerta noted, “These rules have been around for a long time and it was important to take a fresh look.” Passengers everywhere will soon be glad they did.