Boeing has confirmed that Wi-Fi made cockpit displays go blank during testing of its latest 737-NG aircraft, a revamp of one of the most common planes in the sky.
The story was uncovered by FlightGlobal's Runway Girl blogger Mary Kirby.
Boeing stressed that no planes had rolled off the production line yet with the problem, and that the manufacturer of the displays, Honeywell, was working on a revised design that would be installed before Boeing delivered the plane to airlines.
The problem only affects "Phase III" Honeywell displays, but the 737 planes being flown on domestic city hops by Australian airlines like Qantas and Virgin Blue use Phase I and II displays that aren't susceptible to the Wi-Fi interference problem.
The screen black-outs occurred under test conditions aircraft makers have to run under United States Federal Communications Commission regulations.
However, Boeing said that the Wi-Fi radiation level required to make the screens go blank was much higher than what would normally be emitted from a planeload of passengers' laptops and handheld devices.
"Actual [electromagnetic radiation] levels experienced during normal operation of typical passenger Wi-Fi systems would not cause any blanking," it said.
Boeing was testing the Wi-Fi system for the US company Aircell, which provides nationwide inflight internet under the GoGo brand (Australian Business Traveller reviewed GoGo during a Virgin America flight recently.)
The use of wireless devices on planes has continued to be a controversial issue, with very few instances of interference proven.
In an Australian Business Traveller interview in Seattle several years ago, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said Boeing had been telling airlines and regulators that aircraft electronics were well shielded against any sort of radio frequency interference, but that aviation regulators were perpetually afraid to lift bans on wireless devices inflight as ultimate liability for air safety rested on them.
Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.