Wi-Fi proven to interfere with aircraft

Wi-Fi proven to interfere with aircraft

Summary: It's official: using Wi-Fi on a plane can interfere with a pilot's navigational equipment, according to an official statement from airline equipment manufacturers Honeywell Avionics and Boeing today.


update It's official: using Wi-Fi on a plane can interfere with a pilot's navigational equipment, according to a statement from airline equipment manufacturers Honeywell Avionics and Boeing today.

Plane Crash

Wi-Fi can interfere with a plane's navigational equipment.
(Lost plane crash set image by Davidd, CC2.0)

According to a report first published by US aviation site Flightglobal, Honeywell Avionics has confirmed that its Phase 3 Display Units used by pilots in Boeing 737 aircraft are susceptible to "blanking" in the presence of Wi-Fi equipment.

Boeing confirmed to ZDNet Australia this afternoon that the issue does exist, but said that it has not delivered any planes suffering the fault.

"Blanking of the Phase 3 Display Units (DUs) has been reported during airline EMI (electromagnetic interference) certification testing of wireless broadband systems (Wi-Fi) on various Next-Generation 737 aeroplanes," Boeing told ZDNet Australia in a statement.

"Boeing has deferred the activation of wireless systems that interface with passenger devices that could potentially interfere with the DU 3 displays," it added.

"Honeywell has assured us that they are working to address the problem and we are satisfied that they are taking the necessary steps to do so."

A senior Boeing engineer stressed to ZDNet Australia that the levels of EMI required to affect a pilot's screen exceeds the levels produced by the normal operation of normal levels of Wi-Fi use.

"Boeing and Honeywell have concluded that actual EMI levels experienced during a flight where there is normal operation of a Wi-Fi system will not cause any blanking of a Phase 3 display. This is not a safety issue with currently operating 737s and 777s," a Boeing engineer said.

Screens that blanked during testing restored themselves within an acceptable time frame during testing, said Honeywell Avionics in a statement, and posed no risk to aircraft operations.

"The screens reappeared well within Boeing's specified recovery time frame. The screens have not blanked in flight and are not a safety of flight issue. Honeywell is working to ensure the problem is addressed and fixed and that our technology will continue to exceed specifications," Honeywell said.

While cabin crew do instruct passengers to power down Wi-Fi devices for the entirety of flights around the world, some US-based carriers install Wi-Fi equipment into their aircraft for passenger use.

ZDNet Australia contacted Jetstar, Virgin Blue and Qantas regarding the issue. Only Jetstar responded at the time of publication, saying that it didn't use the equipment susceptible to the fault.

Updated at 10:27am, 11 March 2011: added additional comment from Boeing.

Topics: Networking, Mobility, Travel Tech, Wi-Fi

Luke Hopewell

About Luke Hopewell

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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  • This is sensationalist journalism at its worst.."posed no risk to aircraft operations" and a carefully inserted pic of a crashed plane really is bottom dweller hysteria mongering.
  • @KJH: You reckon? (/irony)

    I detect some hypocrisy, given that some carriers sell wifi access as an 'extra'
  • I totally agree with the previous comments. Boeing clearly states in the article that they haven't delivered any aircraft equipped with the Phase 3 DUs that also offer WiFi service. And to insert that fake photo from the set of the TV series "Lost" is both pathetic and irrelevant.
  • Previous posters are on the mark. This is just intellectually dishonest, misleading, sensationalist rubbish. I have detected a bit of this at ZD in the past and frequently skip past stuff that I know to be essentially defective. If ZD are not more careful they may lose the readers they actually spruik to their advertisers and be left with the trolls.
    Robert Kennedy
  • You've said it all guys... particularly sloppy and misleading reporting.

    btw Luke, FlightGlobal is a member of the Flight International family... as British as they come, not US.
  • The title and the photo does reek of sensationalism. Yes, these systems may have been demonstrated to blank out, but then also demonstrated return to normal operation within acceptable timeframes (probably by tuning in to a frequency different to the Wi-Fi signal, but I don't know, not being an aircraft engineer).

    It also shows that the power outputs required is well over the usual capacity of Wi-Fi systems. So, basically, no high-powered EM signal generators are allowed on board aircraft. I'll leave mine at home.
  • This is a useful article, because the headline will rank high on Google and secure nervous travellers' attention, and the text will then reassure them that the risk has been assessed and found to be a non-issue.

    And I thought the inclusion of the pic was just Friday afternoon humour. Have a nice weekend folks. Please keep all electronic devices switched off until you are well inside the terminal building. Thank you for your attention and enjoy your flight.