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FAA could decide action to address Wi-Fi interference with avionics

The US FAA is waiting for Boeing to issue a service bulletin to address Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell Phase 3 display units (DUs) before deciding if regulatory action is required.

"We're aware of the impending service bulletin. Once we get it, we'll determine if we need to take some regulatory safety action," said an FAA spokesman.

The susceptibility of Honeywell Phase 3 DUs to Wi-Fi interference was discovered when FAA supplemental type certification for Aircell's Gogo air-to-ground (ATG)-based in-flight Internet solution was sought for Boeing 737NG aircraft. Blanking of the Phase 3 DUs was observed during required electro magnetic interference testing.

One of the conditions for STC is that 737NG operators place placards in the flightdeck saying that Wi-Fi devices are to be powered off, according to multiple sources.

Alaska Airlines, a customer of Gogo and all-737 operator that is distributing iPads to its pilots with the ultimate hope that they can be used as electronic flight bags (EFBs), says it is "aware that there has been an issue and we are not using Gogo in the cockpits. We are only using the iPads as an information device."

The carrier, which operates some 737NGs with Honeywell Phase 3 DUs, has retracted its former statement that it "experienced" the interference issue.

Ultimately, however, once interference issues are addressed, operators with connectivity could use the pipes to support real-time EFB applications, opening up the transmitting characteristic of the iPad.

Explaining the benefits of connected iPad-based EFBs, Jeppesen chief strategist, aviation Rick Ellerbrock said: "The promise of the iPad on board the airplane is connectivity to the world. Once you have that you can keep current with new weather information, updated flight plans, NOTAM changes, and company messaging."

Jeppesen is working with Alaska, Delta Air Lines and myriad other carriers to transform the Apple tablet into EFBs.

Speaking broadly about the interest that Jeppesen is fielding for a connected iPad-based EFB - and not the Honeywell situation in specific - Ellerbrock noted that, as a transmitting portable electronic device (T-PED), the iPad is no longer passive, but rather is actively talking on radio frequencies. "It means it is potentially more difficult to have a clean test with avionics interference, although we've seen some pretty good success so far. But there is more testing involved to make sure it is not interfering with avionics."

Boeing, meanwhile, says that while it has no firm date for tabling a service bulletin to address the interference issue with Honeywell Phase 3 DUs, it is "confident that it is imminent".

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