FAA orders airlines to replace cockpit displays in 1300 jets over Wi-Fi interference

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In most jobs involving the use 0f an electronic display, an unexpected screen outage can of course be something of a nuisance, but hopefully not too tricky to sort out. If, however, you’re an airline pilot coming in to land in rough weather, seeing your display go black at such a crucial moment would probably make you wish you’d stayed in bed that day.

Apparently, incidents of this nature could actually happen in a number of Boeing aircraft flying today.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says some displays are prone to interference from Wi-Fi and cellular devices, and even satellite communications systems, and must therefore be replaced.

The Honeywell-made displays, which the FAA says should be swapped out by 2019, are in around 1,300 Boeing 737 and 777 jets currently in operation. With each one costing thousands of dollars, it’s thought replacing such a huge number could cost carriers as much as $14 million.

Honeywell spokesperson Steve Bracken said his firm only once saw an example of a Wi-Fi-related display issue – during a ground-based test – adding that there’s never been any reports of similar problems during an actual flight. Since 2012 the company has been manufacturing modified displays with enhanced shielding and upgraded software to further ensure no such incident can occur.

As a precautionary measure, Boeing advised airlines two years ago to replace any affected displays over time. However, the FAA’s decision this week, which follows ground-based tests of its own that saw one display go blank for six minutes, makes the recommendation mandatory, with a time limit imposed.

It’s not clear why the FAA has taken this step now, though it may be related to the increased use of Wi-Fi during flights, by passengers as well as pilots and crew.

According to Reuters, several airlines, as well as Honeywell, asked the FAA to “delay or reduce the effects of the directive.” However, the FAA is standing by its order, saying a blank display while taking off or landing could result in “loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery.”

Put in those terms, we rather like the idea of the affected airlines replacing their displays sooner rather than later.

[Source: Reuters, WSJ]

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