By Dow Jones Business News, September 23, 2013, 10:35:00 PM EDT
The Federal Aviation Administration moved toward mandatory replacement of certain older Honeywell International Inc.
pilot displays installed on more than 150 Boeing Co. 737s and 777s flown by U.S. carriers, raising new concerns about
susceptibility to interference from Wi-Fi signals.
U.S. regulators have warned that in extreme cases, Wi-Fi systems aboard commercial jets could cause essential pilot
displays to blink or temporarily blank out, a previously discovered vulnerability affecting several hundred airliners
The FAA's move Monday comes amid a proliferation of Web connectivity for airline passengers and pilots alike, and also
coincides with FAA deliberations to ease current cabin restrictions on using personal electronic devices below 10,000
feet. Industry officials said the latest action wasn't prompted by those broader policy discussions, though it may end
up having some impact on the agency's final decision.
Both Honeywell and Boeing previously acknowledged the potential interference problem, which hasn't shown up during any
flights. Last fall, the companies voluntarily switched to modified displays with enhanced shielding and upgraded
software for new aircraft, and also urged carriers to voluntarily fix or swap out suspect parts on existing fleets.
Foreign regulators are likely to follow the FAA and issue similar directives affecting hundreds of additional jetliners.
But only a portion of the targeted planes have been fixed so far, according to industry officials. Now, the FAA for
the first time is explicitly citing the extent of the hazards and proposing to order U.S. airlines to replace or modify
the older Honeywell units. The directive will become final after public comment.
On Monday, a spokesman said the FAA asked the government-industry committee to examine the safety issues related to
PEDs because the agency "recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard
aircraft." He reiterated that the advisory group's report is expected to be finished by the end of the month, and then
the FAA will "determine next steps."
Honeywell didn't have any immediate comment. In the past, Honeywell called the testing issue "an isolated incident"
involving test frequencies that went "way beyond" typical Wi-Fi signals. The FAA previously said it was reviewing the
internal circuitry of the 737 displays "to determine if a safety issue exists."
The FAA document proposes a five-year compliance deadline, indicating agency officials don't see the issue as an
imminent hazard demanding swift correction. Nonetheless, barely a few months ago industry officials didn't expect any
A Boeing spokesman said the company has been "able to replicate the blanking in our labs' but "we know of no
documented occurrences of blanking in flight." He also said the units "are equipped with a timer that will shut them
down for six minutes in order for them to reset."
Jon Ostrower contributed to this article.
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