Section 5


In-Flight Entertainment System



In May 1996, Swissair entered into an agreement with IFT to install a then state-of-the-art IFEN system into 16 MD-11 and 5 B-747 Swissair aircraft. In the agreement made with Swissair, IFT was responsible for all aspects of integrating the IFEN system into all Swissair MD-11 and B-747 aircraft, including the system-to-aircraft integration design, system certification, hardware installation, ongoing support, training, and continuing airworthiness. Santa Barbara Aerospace (SBA) to perform the FAA certification services, in its capacity as an FAA-approved Designated Alteration Station (DAS). In certifying the STC, SBA had been delegated the authority (by the FAA) to act on behalf of the FAA. FAA procedures required that a DAS submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) for each STC project, describing the project in sufficient detail to allow the FAA to determine what level of FAA involvement and oversight would be appropriate.

The FAA received the LOI for the Swissair project from SBA on 23 August 1996, and in accordance with established procedures, assigned an FAA team to review the LOI to determine the appropriate level of FAA involvement. Following their initial review of the LOI, the FAA contacted SBA to advise them of two additional test requirements necessary to certify the IFEN system. The first test involved assessing the crashworthiness of the associated new seat trays; the second involved assessing the flammability of IFEN-related materials being added within the cabin. On 3 October 1996, SBA submitted an amended LOI to the FAA incorporating the additional test requirements. The initial LOI was stamped "FAA Accepted" on 8 October 1996.

Based on the proposed IFEN system as described in the LOI, the FAA determined that SBA was capable of conducting the STC approval process. The FAA expected that SBA would inform them of any subsequent changes to the scope of the project, and that SBA would request FAA expertise as required. Other than those mentioned above, SBA did not submit any written changes to the LOI as the project evolved. In the configuration that was certified, the IFEN was connected to aircraft power in a way that was incompatible with the MD-11 emergency electrical load-shedding design philosophy and was not compliant with the type certificate of the aircraft. The FAA Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office (LAACO) was responsible for regulatory oversight of SBA, which it accomplished by monitoring individual SBA DAS projects, and by conducting evaluations.

During the review of the IFEN system installation documentation, various discrepancies were noted in the approved drawings and supporting documentation prepared by HI. Examples of discrepancies include conflicting information between drawings, incorrect wire and pin identification, and incorrect references to other documents. The information contained in the STC-approved type design data package did not contain sufficient detail to completely define the IFEN system installation configuration.

The TSB concluded that FAA’s designee program did not ensure that the designated alteration station employed personnel with sufficient aircraft-specific knowledge to appropriately assess the integration of the entertainment system’s power supply with aircraft power. In response to the Canadian report, in 1999, FAA investigated its oversight of the designated alteration station involved in the crash and concluded that FAA’s oversight of the designee that installed the entertainment systems was in accordance with FAA policy.


However, the report went on to note that aspects of FAA’s policy for overseeing designated alteration stations lacked clarity and needed revision. To address this problem, the report recommended a nationwide study of FAA’s oversight of designated alteration stations. This subsequent study, conducted in 2000, found general oversight weaknesses, including the lack of a national standard policy on management and oversight of designated alteration stations and a general lack of FAA supervision of these designees. To address the root cause of the problems identified, the 2000 study recommended revisions to FAA’s order concerning oversight of designated alteration stations, which were made and issued in August 2002.


The 2000 review further recommended that the office establish a process to periodically assess the effectiveness and applicability of existing policies concerning designated alteration stations and consider feedback from FAA field offices and designees. The Aircraft Certification Service has not implemented this recommendation to directly assess the policies in place, but continues to rely on informal feedback from FAA field offices and industry.