ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

Perspectives: The Aviation Industry and Transmitting PEDs

By David P. Carson and James W. Fowler | June 1, 2006

Cell phones, wireless networks, two-way pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other transmitting portable electronic devices (T-PEDs) are growing rapidly in popularity. These devices all emit radio frequency signals, thus the generic term, T-PEDs. As passengers become more accustomed to using T-PEDs in their daily lives, the natural consequence is a desire to use them on airplanes, as well. The increasing number of devices in use also means more of them will be left turned on inadvertently when they should have been turned off. Steps towards addressing this situation--and passenger expectations--are being taken in three main venues.

Testing. A number of airlines have conducted testing and analysis to gain FAA approval for use of cell phones on board aircraft during taxi operations. Airlines also are evaluating whether to permit passengers to use other T-PEDs during taxi. Although some airplane interference reports point to cell phones as the source of interference, none of these reports has conclusively determined that cell phone emissions were, in fact, to blame. This situation requires a consistent, documented and validated process to replace anecdotal understanding and assumptions with facts, data and repeatable results.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In February 2005 FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to consider amending the Commission's rules in order to facilitate the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices aboard airborne aircraft. FCC restrictions on airborne use of wireless handsets stem from the potential for harmful interference to terrestrial-based systems, whereas FAA is concerned with the potential for T-PED interference with aircraft systems.

RTCA Special Committee (SC) 202. On March 14, 2006, RTCA, an independent, not-for-profit federal advisory committee, issued an update to its SC-202 guidelines document, DO-294A, "Guidance on Allowing Transmitting Portable Electronic Devices on Aircraft." The document provides the means for aviation regulatory authorities, aircraft operators, aircraft manufacturers, PED manufacturers, and others, as appropriate, to determine acceptable and enforceable policies for passenger and crew use of PEDs.

Since its formation in March of 2003, SC-202 has been assessing the impact and risks related to commercial airplane passengers' use of radiating T-PEDs while in flight. That radiating signal has the potential to interfere with the avionics, possibly contributing to flight safety issues. Phase 1 work addressed current-generation T-PED technologies, while Phase 2 is focused on emerging technologies.

The committee works closely with other industry groups addressing similar issues, including FCC, other RTCA committees and the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) working group on PEDs (WG 58), as well as with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Based on the T-PEDs that were commercially available in 2004, the committee completed its Phase 1 DO-294 document in October of that year. Responding to feedback from the aviation community since that time and incorporating additional experience with the processes defined, SC-202 issued the interim update to the original document. DO-294A expands the guidance that recommends aircraft test strategies, provides supporting analyses and clarifying rationale, and offers up operator policies to assist in the management of T-PED use, both domestically and internationally.

As part of its Phase 2 tasks, SC-202 is assessing emerging PED technologies such as ultra-wideband (UWB), transmitting medical implant devices, active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and pico cells for controlling mobile phones on aircraft. This work also will define and recommend specific guidance for aircraft design and certification that can mitigate risks identified for PEDs. Also for Phase 2, the committee is tasked to develop, with the support of FCC and other international regulatory and standards bodies, recommended design limit changes for consumer T-PEDs. The guidance document update for Phase 2 is due to be complete by December 2006. A second document, providing aircraft design and certification recommendations, is being developed in parallel with the Phase 2 work, and will be completed by mid-2007. For more information, visit RTCA at www.rtca.org.

David P. Carson of Boeing and James W. Fowler of US Airways are RTCA SC-202 co-chairs.

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