Expected guidelines for gate-to-gate use of PEDs
Monday 7, October 2013
WIFI on aircrafts has been a hot issue for a while As the airline industry waits for the FAA to publish guidelines concerning the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing, the agency last week proposed mandating the replacement of certain Honeywell cockpit display units due to concerns over their susceptibility to electromagnetic interference (EMI) from Wi-Fi signals.
The issue with the Honeywell Phase 3 display units is nothing new. It surfaced a couple of years ago when Flightglobal exclusively reported that ground test procedures had revealed the displays were susceptible to blanking during certification testing of Wi-Fi systems on Boeing 737NG aircraft. Honeywell later developed a fix in the form of a modified Phase 3A display unit. And, as Honeywell notes, “No display units have ever blanked out in flight due to Wi-Fi interference. The only known occurrence was during a developmental test conducted on the ground.
“We worked with Boeing and addressed any concerns in 2012 with new display hardware.”
737 placarde no Wi Fi 300x166 FAA highlights EMI concerns on eve of expected guidelines for gate to gate use of PEDs
Until now, any airline wishing to offer inflight connectivity to passengers on aircraft fitted with the unmodified Phase 3 units have had to display a placard prohibiting the use of Wi-Fi devices on the flight deck while the engines are running. However, if the new FAA proposal is adopted they will have to go a step further and shell out over $10,000 per aircraft to upgrade to Phase 3A display unit.
The modified Phase 3A unit “has not shown the same susceptibility to Wi-Fi”, says Boeing, adding, “Boeing has been delivering Phase 3A units in our airplanes since September 2012.”
The proposed FAA airworthiness directive relates to all Boeing 737-600, -700, -800 and -900 aircraft as well as all Boeing 777s fitted with the Phase 3 units. The proposal gives airlines five years to carry out the replacements. The FAA estimates that the proposal affects 157 aircraft in the US fleet.
In its proposal, the FAA says: “Testing determined that certain Honeywell Phase 3 DUs exhibited flickering and blanking when subjected to radio frequency emissions in Wi-Fi frequency bands at radiated power levels below those that the displays are required to tolerate for certification of a Wi-Fi installation. Display blanking durations of as long as 6 minutes were observed during testing.”
It goes on to say: “This condition, if not corrected, could result in loss of flight-critical information displayed to the flight crew during a critical phase of flight, such as an approach or take-off, which could result in loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery, or controlled flight into terrain or obstacles.”
Meanwhile, an aviation rulemaking committee tasked by the FAA to table recommendations on the safe use of PEDs during all phases of flight – including the critical phases of takeoff and landing – has tabled its findings. Guidelines from the FAA to airlines are forthcoming. Whether the timing of the FAA’s proposal last week concerning Honeywell Phase 3 displays’ susceptibility to EMI is significant or purely coincidental remains to be seen.
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