We airline passengers all hope that, one day soon, we will have our iPads “on” from takeoff to landing. It’s our dream to eliminate the unwieldy system of “on” until taxi, “off” until 10,000 feet, “on” until “off” on final descent, back “on” after landing and re-entering our connected world.
It’s happening. Almost.
A June 2012 revision to FAA code introduced the idea of “viewable stowage” so that pilots no longer have to put up with the on/off conundrum that passengers wrestle with. The viewable stowage provision allows class 1 EFBs (e.g., iPads), devices not connected to aircraft power and mounted only for the duration of the flight, for use in flight without powering up and down.
Major airlines leapt onto this bandwagon and have issued or will issue iPads to their pilots to use as soon as FAA testing (decompression, noninterference, etc.) is complete.
With this uninterrupted connectivity open to the pilots, can passengers be far behind? Can we actually be closer than ever to nonstop sky Tweets, sky searches and sky posts? For marketers, such improved access to the traveling public – while they’re traveling – creates an immediate surge of ideas. Imagine the midflight opportunities for Vegas hotels, restaurants, and rental car companies if they could contact potential customers mid flight with special offers. And it’s all going to happen. Soon. Well, maybe.
The problem is that digital progress moves faster than both airline and airliner. Even before we can connect and mine the rich market of the truly connected flying public, other electronic bugaboos intrude.
“Hacker uses an Android to remotely attack and hijack an airplane,” Computerworld’s website recently exposed the vulnerable underbelly of connectivity that will probably doom, or at least delay, any hope of an open-airwaves connection.
The article relies on a presentation by security consultant Hugo Teso, who points out the ease with which hackers can use an aircraft’s flight management system – which, ironically, is intended to make an aircraft even safer – to take control of the aircraft remotely. Even the FAA’s own ADS-B and ACARS safety systems, designed to have aircraft talk to each other to avoid collision, can be manipulated because of their unencrypted and unauthenticated protocols.
Some of the functions that hackers could use are “please go here” to make an aircraft change course, “kiss off” to remove an aircraft from the flight tracking system, or “be puckish,” which sends fake alerts to start lights flashing and alarms buzzing.
Knowing the problems are the first steps to solving them, and plans are underway to encrypt future and current systems. However, it’s not a pretty picture for flight safety, and certainly a major roadblock to passenger entertainment and to the advertiser’s nirvana of uninhibited, targeted in-flight marketing.