Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Federal Aviation Administration Joins Push to Use Wireless Signals For Aircraft-Safety Systems: FAA sets up advisory committee to cooperate with European experts to provide guidance to the industry



The Wall Street Journal
By ANDY PASZTOR
June 22, 2016 6:31 a.m. ET


U.S. aviation regulators have teamed up with their European counterparts to develop common standards aimed at harnessing wireless signals for a potentially wide array of aircraft-safety systems.

Nearly a year after Airbus Group SE unsuccessfully urged Federal Aviation Administration officials to join in such efforts, Peggy Gilligan, the agency’s senior safety official, has set up an advisory committee to cooperate with European experts specifically to “provide general guidance to industry” on the topic.

The FAA’s decision became public Tuesday, during a meeting of the top policy-making committee of RTCA Inc., an industry-government group that serves as the regulatory agency’s primary think tank on technical issues. The goal, according to the FAA, is “to enable improvements in safety and a reduction in weight” by eliminating some of the wiring that now connects many systems on board jetliners.

Both the FAA and Boeing Co. were initially cool to the notion. But the latest move to develop joint U.S.-European standards, according to RTCA documents, is intended to eliminate “significant variability in wireless technology, application and protection for aviation products.” The initiative is slated to run over roughly three years.

So far, most public attention has focused on enhanced wireless technology to improve connectivity for passengers surfing the Web during flights. But the Airbus effort move is part of a broader, less well-known initiative—which includes rival Boeing and several international avionics suppliers—to research use of on board wireless signals for safety-related applications such as a backup for engine controls; monitoring the condition of landing-gear systems; detecting dangerous icing on airplane surfaces; and alerting pilots about defective airspeed sensors. Some backers estimate the result could be to eliminate some 220 pounds of wiring on the average jetliner.

European authorities already are developing standards for such wireless applications outside passenger cabins. Now, an RTCA-organized panel, led by officials of Airbus and Honeywell International Inc., will seek to ensure there are common standards for safety-related uses on both sides of the Atlantic.

Previously, Airbus indicated that company engineers envision a wider range of applications, potentially even as backup systems for moving critical wing and tail surfaces that control flight.

Proponents envision such wireless applications will be separate from signals used by passengers for entertainment or communications. But one of the main issues the RTCA panel will study is how safety-related wireless signals could impact signals already used for radio altimeters that tell pilots the altitude of aircraft.

The proposed uses also raise significant issues about future aircraft vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. As a result, U.S. and European experts have been instructed to delve into those matters.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

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