Wi-Fi proven to interfere with airline display units


— 11:27 AM on March 10, 2011

Do you roll your eyes when asked to turn off your laptop during takeoff and landing on an airplane? Maybe you shouldn't. Flightglobal is reporting that Honeywell Phase 3 Display Units are prone to interference from Wi-Fi signals. Interference is said to make the screens go blank on display units, although affected hardware hasn't made its way into any airline fleets. It looks like the problem is tied more to in-flight Wi-Fi services than wireless signals generated by notebooks and smartphones.

Boeing, meanwhile, says: "Current testing by Boeing and Honeywell has determined that blanking may occur when a DU is subjected to testing procedures specified by the FAA requirements (AC-20-164) during installations of Wi-Fi systems on the airplane. Based on testing that has been conducted, Boeing and Honeywell have concluded that actual EMI levels experienced during normal operation of typical passenger Wi-Fi systems would not cause any blanking of the Phase 3 DU. This issue does not exist with the Phase 1 or 2 DU's."

According to the article, Phase 4 DUs are unaffected, as well. What's more, the screens apparently only go blank for a brief moment and return "within Boeing's specified recovery timeframe." Sounds like much ado about very little to me.

Obviously, airlines should exercise an abundance of caution when transporting hundreds of people tens of thousands of feet in the air. There's a good case to be made for making passengers turn off devices that can send and receive wireless signals, too. At the same time, however, I don't really buy that my tiny Sansa Clip MP3 player has any shot at messing with a modern plane's avionics systems. The last time I flew, the stewardess told me I wasn't even allowed to hang my headphones around my neck during takeoff and landing because they could cause injury in the event of a crash. In the event of a crash, headphones are going to be the least of my problems. Thanks to Slashdot for the tip.

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