In-Flight Entertainment System

 Installation Found Deficient

09/11/1999 03:16 pm EDT

The following information comes from AIR SAFETY WEEK

Special Review Finds Oversight Lacking in Supplemental Type Certificate Process
Satisfying the regulations and meeting the minimum standards did not prevent the installation of a system that was incompatible with an airplane's design philosophy. This is one of the central lessons emerging from the Swissair Flight 111 tragedy, and one that has put the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the spot -- reacting to rather than having prevented what appears to be an embarrassing lack of rigorous oversight. 

It was the FAA's imprimatur on the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) that authorized the installation of a high-powered interactive in-flight entertainment network (IFEN) in Swissair's 16-plane fleet of MD-11 jets. After the Sept. 1998 crash of one of those airplanes, burned wires associated with the IFEN were pulled from the wreckage and the company immediately disconnected the power from the IFEN systems on its remaining aircraft. 

Last week, Swissair filed a lawsuit against the three companies involved in the IFEN fiasco: Interactive Flight Technologies Inc. (IFT), which supplied the system, Santa Barbara Aerospace, which certified it, and Hollingshead International, whose technicians installed it. Earlier, IFT issued a lawsuit against Swissair, claiming it had relied on SR Technics, the carrier's maintenance arm, to ensure proper integration of the IFEN in Swissair's MD-11's (see ASW, May 24). 

The dueling lawsuits are part of the larger picture that begs the question: should the system have been installed the way it was in the first place? Further, was regulatory oversight sufficiently rigorous? The answers, at this point, seem to be "no" and "no." 

The FAA plans to issue an airworthiness directive (AD) to prevent further use of an IFEN the Swiss authorities have already banned. The forthcoming action is based on a special certification review the FAA conducted after the Swissair MD-11 crashed. 

Indeed, according to Ronald Wojnar, deputy director of the FAA's aircraft certification service, that fleetwide review of MD-11's was launched within hours of the Swissair accident. "We started, actually, at (Boeing's) Douglas Products Division, by looking at the systems in that cabin area so see what was up there (in the burned area). We looked at airplanes in production. We looked at airplanes undergoing heavy maintenance, and we also found that this particular airplane (the accident airplane) had this supplemental type certificate (system) installed." The STC was issued November 19, 1996 by Santa Barbara Aerospace in its capacity as an FAA-approved Designated Alteration Station (DAS). 

The report of the FAA's self-initiated review of this particular STC process represents a mixture of candor offset by hedging rhetoric. Yes, there were deficiencies, but never at risk of compromising safety. Among the June 14, 1999 report's principal findings: 

The IFEN's electrical power switching was not compatible with the MD-11's design concept. Instead of connecting the system to the cabin bus, it was hooked to an essential bus. As a result, the installation did not "provide the flightcrew and/or cabin crew with the ability to remove electrical power" by any means other than pulling the system's circuit breakers. The installation "circumvented flight-crew procedures for responding to a smoke/fumes emergency by connecting the IFEN system to an electrical bus that is not de-energized when the CAB BUS switch is activated," according to the certification review team's report. Certification procedures were sloppy. The bill of particulars includes a failure to adequately inspect the installed IFEN systems. "The DAS inspector found non-conformities after the applicant (Santa Barbara Aerospace) stated that inspections had been performed and the installation was in conformance to design data."  There were failures in FAA oversight. The special review team found gaps in FAA documentation requirements and procedures to ensure that the IFEN was properly installed. Training standards were inadequate. If Designated Alteration Station (DAS) staff are going to be approving/certifying installation of systems like this IFEN, they need better training in the design philosophy of the airplane and the carrier's operational procedures, the certification team concluded. 

Even though deficiencies in design and installation were found, the report insisted that the discrepancies did not "adversely impact safety." The testing included an AC to DC short circuit test, in which a single-phase 115-volt ac power supply input wire was shorted directly to the 48-volt dc output of the power supply. The circuit breakers tripped, the fault was removed, IFEN power was restored, and the system booted up and operated normally. Nevertheless, Wojnar conceded, "We've seen instances in those airplanes where they didn't use good industry practices for the installation of the wiring." 

Regarding system de-activation, Wojnar said, "We don't know exactly what the crew knew regarding the function of the cabin bus switch. Since Swissair had inserted an item in their 'parking' checklist to pull the circuit breakers to shut down the IFEN system, the crew would have known that this was the only way to shut down the system in a non-emergency scenario." 

The review team said flatly the IFEN needs to be connected to, or controlled by, the cabin bus switch. That recommendation seems to have been overtaken by events. Wojnar said an AD will be issued to prevent the reactivation of these IFEN systems. "The STC is no longer valid, and we'll issue at least an AD which of course will go out to the world....It will cover our airworthiness concerns," even though, he added, "we don't have proof that (the IFEN) caused the accident."

In addition, steps will be taken to better educate DAS and FAA officials. "This wasn't the best understanding of the original manufacturer's system design philosophy, and we're going to come up with new policies on what was needed in those areas," Wojnar asserted. (Note: the full text of the interview with Mr. Wojnar is on our website:  >> FAA, tel. 202/267-3461 << 

Gaps in the Process
Special Certification Review Team Report of Swissair MD-11 In-flight Entertainment System 

Findings (extracts): 

Electrical power switching is not compatible with the design concept of the MD-11 airplane...In addition, (it) does not provide the flight-crew...with the ability to remove electrical power by a means other than pulling the system's circuit breakers. The STC (supplemental type certificate) applicant and DAS (Designated Alteration Station) holder did not follow proper certification procedures. The FAA failed to ensure that problems identified...were corrected. Non-conformities between installation drawings and the actual installation were identified, and a number of installation drawings were found inadequate. However, these discrepancies were minor and do not adversely impact safety. 

Recommendations (extracts): 
FAA should require that any organization having DAS authority provide formal training (including): the airplane manufacturer's type design, design practices, operational assumptions and operator procedures. Initiate an effort to determine if the findings of this special certification review are representative of the DAS industry as a whole. 
Source: FAA 
**********Here is an example of just how serious these wire concerns have become.
Wires and Fires (From AIR SAFETY WEEK)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Oversight has scheduled a hearing on aircraft electrical system safety for Sept. 15, 2:00 p.m., in Room 2167 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Issues may include wire types, their characteristics, arcing, inspection techniques and possible solutions to ameliorate the hazard posed by aging wire, connections and electrical systems in geriatric jets. Witnesses will represent the NTSB, FAA, ALPA, the U.S. Navy and other top experts. The 6 witnesses now slated each will give a 5 min. presentation, followed by questions from subcommittee members. This hearing has been cancelled before (more than 4 times already); this announcement is contingent upon the potential for yet another delay in this long-expected hearing.
It is utterly amazing that the bozo bureaucrats at the FAA would name deficiencies such as, "Electrical power switching is not compatible with the design concept of the MD-11 airplane...In addition, (it) does not provide the flightcrew...with the ability to remove electrical power by a means other than pulling the system's circuit breakers.
The STC applicant and DAS holder did not follow proper certification procedures.
The FAA failed to ensure that problems identified...were corrected," ... and then have the unmitigated gall to say that these deficiencies did not compromise safety. It is also unbelievable that top FAA officials failed to mention this review in their meeting with IASA just last week.
Clearly we in the United States can NOT trust our federal agencies.

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