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Wi-Fi causes cockpit screens to blank out

Recent tests of new Boeing 737 airplanes, with Wi-Fi activated, result in cockpit screens blanking out momentarily, but manufacturer of display unit says no flight safety issues.
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor

Boeing has confirmed that Wi-Fi signals caused cockpit displays to go "blank" during a recent test of its new generation of 737NG airplanes, but the aircraft maker says no planes with this problem have rolled off its production lines.

According to a blog post Thursday on industry news site, Flightglobal, this has prompted Boeing to halt installation of in-flight connectivity systems in all its planes including wide-body aircrafts.

The report explained that affected planes were installed with "Phase 3" of Honeywell's display units (DU 3), and were going through electromagnetic interference (EMI) testing of Aircell's Gogo in-flight connectivity system when the "blank screen" showed up.

It noted that tests were carried out with Wi-Fi radiation levels "higher than normal", exceeding levels emitted even from a planeload of passengers' laptop and mobile devices. These conditions are part of test requirements set by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission.

Honeywell confirmed the "momentary blanking" occurred during recent ground tests, but not in-flight, and the affected screens reappeared "well within Boeing's specific recovery timeframe". It further stressed that this was not a flight safety issue.

However, the Flightglobal blog noted that "fallout from the event is already occurring", with authorities requiring 737NG operators to put placards in the flight deck indicating that Wi-Fi devices should be switched off. They are also prohibited from installing DU 3 units in the presence of in-flight connectivity systems.

This incident has also affected installations of AeroMobile's eXphone. Airlines that placed orders for the system, such as Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines and V Australia, will not be receiving aircrafts with the eXphone as scheduled, until the display issue is addressed.

Singapore Airlines, one of the latest airlines to jump on the in-flight Web connectivity bandwagon, is partnering OnAir to offer Wi-Fi service on its aircrafts.

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