Alaska pilots not allowed to access Internet in the cockpit due to interference issue

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Alaska Airlines is not permitting its pilots to use their new iPads to access the Internet in the cockpit after witnessing Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell Phase 3 display units [DUs].

The carrier is distributing iPads to its pilots to replace paper flight manuals, and ultimately intends for the Apple tablets to be used as Class I electronic flight bags (EFBs). But accessing connectivity for real-time EFB applications - or for other uses - in the flightdeck will not be allowed in the near term in accordance with FAA guidance, an Alaska spokeswoman confirmed to ATI and Flightglobal.

Honeywell Phase 3 display units last year showed themselves susceptible to blanking during electromagnetic interference testing of wireless broadband systems on Boeing Next Generation 737s. One of the conditions for 737NG operators to receive FAA supplemental type certification for Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet solution is they must require that Wi-Fi devices be powered off in the flightdeck.

Alaska, a customer of Gogo, operates an all-737 fleet.

"We have experienced the same thing [interference]," revealed the Alaska spokeswoman, noting that the carrier has Honeywell Phase 3 DUs "in some of our aircraft" and as a result pilots "are not using the Internet with the iPads currently".

A service bulletin to address the problem has not yet been tabled. Sources say the process is taking longer than expected.

"It is our understanding that this [issue] is going to be addressed and it is going to be moved forward but we just don't know when," said the Alaska spokeswoman.

The airline looks forward to eventually allowing pilots to access real-time EFB applications while in flight. "This is Chapter 1 and we're pretty excited about it, and we're hoping there is Chapter 2 for this, and taking it to the next step, but again things have to be rolled out and tested slowly.

"Right now, the [device] is a document reader, and if we are allowed that Internet connectivity we can use it for another whole range of things."

Boeing last year suspended linefit of cabin connectivity systems as a precautionary measure after the interference issue surfaced.

Boeing and Honeywell could not be immediately reached for comment.