updated 12:55 pm EST, Thu March 10, 2011
Boeing says GoGo Wi-Fi interferes in some tests
Boeing has found one of the few instances of Wi-Fi interfering with an airliner's equipment, tipsters said Thursday. The 737NG aircraft's Honeywell Phase 3 Display Units blank out when close to a strong Wi-Fi signal, including the GoGo in-flight Internet access system. FlightGlobal understood that Boeing had temporarily frozen GoGo installs on all its planes.
The issue appeared to be narrow and didn't affect earlier Phase 2 or more recent Phase 4 units. Honeywell confirmed the issue but said that they only occurred with testing at "elevated power levels" and that they didn't occur in real-world conditions, where the power levels were normal. It insisted the blank-out period was quick enough to fit within Boeing's safety guidelines but promised a fix regardless.
Inside contacts said Boeing had meticulously checked the in-flight systems but that planes with the Phase 3 screens would have flight deck warnings to turn off Wi-Fi. Future installs also wouldn't mix Phase 3 with in-flight Internet of any kind, at least until the fix was in place.
FAA officials knew of the problem and was working with both sides, but didn't say whether or not it would take action.
Aircell, which offers GoGo on various planes, declined to comment since the flaw wasn't specific to its own Wi-Fi hardware.
Airlines have regularly been criticized for insisting on telling passengers to switch off all forms of handheld electronics and wireless technology during some parts of flights as a blanket rule. Most portable devices often don't emit more than a small electromagnetic field. Boeing's discovery is unlikely to shut down in-air Wi-Fi but does suggest that commonly available wireless could cause a problem under very specific conditions.
GoGo has been an important part of modernizing airplane passenger technology and lets users pay extra for a 3G connection shared to the rest of the plane over a Wi-Fi hotspot. The approach lets those with iPhones, other smartphones, notebooks and tablets get a roughly 1.5Mbps peak speed, or enough to do common tasks on the web.