Hardware, Technology Security

Electronics DO Interfere with Aircraft Systems: Boeing Issues Alert!

In almost every of 830,000 miles I spent in the air, two things were always in common and pronounced by the Flight Attendants: "No smoking" and "Electronics interfere with aircraft systems". Personally, I considered second one a dud ever since colleagues in Croatian magazine PC Chip took no less than 20 cellphones of the worst kind (old generation devices) and placed them in the cockpit during takeoff of an Airbus A320 airplane on a regular flight to Frankfurt.

Boeing 777-200LR airplane wearing Boeing's corporate "DreamLiner" color scheme
Boeing 777-200LR airplane wearing Boeing’s corporate "DreamLiner" color scheme

That test showed that cellphones do not interfere with flight instruments and that the reason for banning the cellphones was null and void. The test was used by numerous phone makers over the course of years, even though some manufacturers conveniently "forgot" who made the test and where.

Even though I always obeyed the no cellphone (airplane mode was invented for that), I couldn’t help myself to record some of interesting take offs such as United’s 757-200 out of Las Vegas airport with 90% thrust for a 50min flight to San Francisco. 9 seconds to air was something I will definitely remember until the rest of my life. In case you haven’t noticed already, I’m an airplane enthusiast and I just love to fly.

Now, imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and read a story on Mary Kirby’s Runway Girl blog that Boeing initiated an investigation into "why in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity interfered with Honeywell’s Phase 3 Display Units."

Honeywell Display Units installed in the cockpit of a commercial airplane. Boeing discovered that these displays are affected by connectivity equipment such as Panasonic's eXPhone or Aircell's GoGo Wi-Fi equipment
Honeywell Display Units installed in the cockpit of a commercial airplane.

For those not into aircraft talk, it turned out that Boeing discovered that during EMI (Electro-Magnetic Interference) testing of Aircell’s GoGo Wi-Fi equipment on a Boeing 737NG aircraft – Display Units were "susceptible to blanking". The company is testing for interference between 100MHz and 8GHz, meaning all consumer and commercial devices are covered by the frequencies in question.

Panasonic Aero exPhone Connectivity UnitThis resulted in Boeing’s decision to defer the installation of Panasonic Aero’s eXPhone connectivity systems on Boeing 777-300ER aircrafts for V Australia, Air New Zealand, Emirates and Turkish Airlines. This is a major step back in enjoying in-flight Internet and mobile phone connectivity and needless to say, you’re at the mercy of your carrier’s equipment to keep yourself entertained during the flight. No World of Warcraft at 40,000 feet, unfortunately.

The company did state that expected time of resolve for this issue is anywhere between June and end of 2011, meaning that aircrafts delivered in meantime would not have the installed connectivity equipment. Given that Boeing delivered 462 planes during 2010, the number of aircrafts not receiving in-flight connectivity might get into hundreds.

At the time of writing, it was unknown if its European competitor Airbus discovered the same anomalies, but the report went at the time when European offices were closing down.