El Al, Astronics, and Viasat join the dubious group of in-flight connectivity installations causing damage to aircraft. And this time around the issue is a little more severe than prior incidents. Rather than just monitoring the planes or reinforcing the installations, the FAA requires “demodification of the STC installation on the airplane by removing the external equipment installed during the STC modification.”
The in-flight connectivity hardware must be – at least temporarily – removed.
At issue is potential cracking at the attachment point between the fuselage and and the antenna/radome mount kit. During routine aircraft inspections El Al identified cracks in the fittings on some aircraft.
The FAA notes “failure of the attachment fittings, if not addressed, could result in loss of the radome and antennae, and consequent damage to the tail and damage to the fuselage in the vicinity of the radome.” That is the very business-like way of stating that the radome could detach inflight, crashing into the tail, ripping a hole in the aircraft fuselage, or both.
It is also the most extreme example of a failure scenario. But the fact that the FAA is mandating replacement rather than increased inspections is telling, even with redundancies of mounting points on the system.
Read More: 2Ku antenna challenges hit the A220
And while the process of removing the external hardware is relatively easy, the business impact is more significant. El Al must now sort out whether and how to reinstall the gear on board. And in the interim the carrier cannot offer the in-flight wifi service they’ve carried for the past couple years.
The FAA does not name the affected airline, other than to mention that no US-registered aircraft are affected. Astronics, as the owner of the installation STC, identified only El Al’s 737s as carrying the affected systems on board.
Also key to note, the systems will eventually be reinstalled. Timing on that and whether it remains on an Astronics STC are unclear.
The requirement to de-install the gear is a major step from the FAA. But this is not the only time an IFC kit has been identified as a troublemaker on board.
Gogo/Intelsat and the 2Ku hardware faced multiple similar challenges over the years. Earlier this year the A220 line-fit option for the 2Ku system halted and altered the process. Air vortices generated by the antenna radome generated excessive vibrations of the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) antenna. Over time this can cause the ELT antenna to separate from the fuselage or cracks resulting in cabin depressurization.
That issue is nearly identical to troubles with the A330/A340 2Ku installations reported in 2018. Those installations were halted and the certification adjusted to account for the challenges.
In the case of the 2Ku installs additional inspections are required to ensure the integrity of the aircraft. While mildly frustrating to aircraft operators the process can be incorporated into other, regular maintenance windows.
The need to proactively remove the Viasat gear to avoid catastrophic failure is a much more aggressive requirement.
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