UPDATE 1: Boeing confirms Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell avionics

Tonight is already sizing up to be a very late night so I’m going to simply copy and paste my Flightglobal story to this blog until tomorrow morning. Clearly BIG lessons are being learned about interference through the massive Gogo retrofits being accomplished. Bloody good to know, I’d say.

Honeywell Phase 3 Display Units (DUs) have shown themselves susceptible to “blanking” during airline electro magnetic interference (EMI) certification testing of wireless broadband systems (Wi-Fi) on various Boeing 737NG airplanes, prompting Boeing to cease linefit installs of in-flight connectivity systems across its portfolio, including widebody aircraft.

Multiple sources tell ATI and Flightgloal that the blanking occurred during EMI testing for Aircell’s Gogo in-flight Internet supplemental type certificate on 737NG aircraft. Aircell has declined comment, saying “this topic is not Aircell specific and, as such, we do not have any comment on the matter”.

Boeing says it has deferred the activation of wireless systems that interface with passenger devices that could potentially interfere with the DU 3 displays. “Boeing has not delivered any installations that would have this issue. Honeywell has assured us that they are working to address the problem and we are satisfied that they are taking the necessary steps to do so,” says Bret Jensen with BCA Engineering Communications.

A source with knowledge of the situation tells ATI and Flightglobal that Boeing has “gone through and scrubbed the avionics numbers to make sure that there are no anomalies and that the avionics will not be affected by personal electronic devices (PEDs). It has been discovered that there is stuff out there that doesn’t meet those requirements yet, and we may uncover more as we go down that path”.

The source adds: “There are three specific part numbers associated with the [Honeywell] display that could be installed. Those are the ones [found to be] susceptible to transmissions.”

Fallout from the event is already occurring. Multiple sources tell ATI and Flightglobal that one of the conditions for STC is that 737NG operators place placards in the flight deck saying that Wi-Fi devices are to be powered off.

Another condition, say sources, is that 737NG operators are not to have DU 3 displays installed with the presence of in-flight connectivity systems, be they Wi-Fi or cellular-based.

On a Boeing Business Jet fitted with in-flight connectivity, for instance, there is a note in the log book that says Phase 3 DUs are not to be installed, but that “version 4 is fine and version 2 is fine”, says a source.

Panasonic partner AeroMobile’s eXPhone in-flight mobile connectivity solution, which was made linefit offerable on certain Boeing types, is not being installed until the Honeywell issue has been addressed. As such, customers of eXPhone are not receiving aircraft with eXPhone as planned. Customers of eXPhone include Emirates, Turkish Airlines and V Australia.

“We’re continuing to work closely with Boeing and our partners at Panasonic to bring eXPhone to full line-fit offerability across the entire Boeing fleet,” says AeroMobile.

Boeing, meanwhile, says: “Current testing by Boeing and Honeywell has determined that blanking may occur when a DU is subjected to testing procedures specified by the FAA requirements (AC-20-164) during installations of Wi-Fi systems on the airplane. Based on testing that has been conducted, Boeing and Honeywell have concluded that actual EMI levels experienced during normal operation of typical passenger Wi-Fi systems would not cause any blanking of the Phase 3 DU. This issue does not exist with the Phase 1 or 2 DU’s.”

Honeywell says that, during recent ground testing “at elevated power levels”, the company observed a momentary blanking on the ‘flat panel’ liquid crystal displays that it developed and pioneered for Boeing.

“The screens reappeared well within Boeing’s specified recovery time frame. The screens have not blanked in flight and are not a safety of flight issue. Honeywell is working to ensure the problem is addressed and fixed and that our technology will continue to exceed specifications,” says Honeywell.

The firm stresses that there have been “no blanking incidents of in-service aircraft with the Wi-Fi system installed”.

A spokesman for the FAA says: “The FAA is aware of some issues involving interference between Honeywell flight displays and in-flight WiFi that surfaced during STC testing. The FAA is currently working with both manufacturers to examine the technical data and test results. After a thorough review, the FAA will consider if further safety action is necessary.”

Sources say a Service Bulletin from Boeing is expected.

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3 Responses to UPDATE 1: Boeing confirms Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell avionics

  1. Jod Wayde March 10, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    Good day MK…

    The issue seems to be known since a long time (sources close to similar STC developements indicate that they are aware since Feb 2010), and that this did not prevent Airworthiness Authority to grand approval for the system in the cabin (ref to Row 44 in Jan this year).

    http://www.flightglobal.com/channels/mro/articles/2011/01/05/351540/row-44-clears-final-hurdle-to-offering-in-flight-internet-in.html

    The answer is in your article: just add a placard forbidding wifi in the cockpit, that’s it.

    On top of that, it will prevent ‘Distracted’ Pilots to miss Airport by hundreds of miles, like in October 2009…

    Jod

  2. Mary Kirby March 10, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Hi Jod, As mentioned in the piece, the impact has had a dominoes effect in the industry. Boeing is not delivering aircraft linefit with in-flight connectivity and, depending on who you talk to, may not do so for some time as it is being rather meticulous due to what was discovered during the STC, and the conditions attached to the STC. Beyond that, however, this issue opens up a host of questions (about qual testing, certification, bringing new COTS-based solutions on board, and connectivity for pilots, such as real-time EFB applications) that I will address in the blog. Cheers.

  3. Jack Stiekema March 21, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    How did these planes pass EMI tests?
    This is dangerous, EMI and RFI compliance is absolutely needed for safety in any transport, not just planes.
    With hundreds of cell phones on board there is alway’s one not switched off.
    And there is a growing number of devices on board of which the owner does not know it has a flight mode switch like Ipad, GPS, E-reader, etc.
    Did anyone investigate how many pilots forget to switch of their devices?