By Gary Stoller
In-flight entertainment systems linked to scores of jet ‘difficulties’ Safety concerns grow: U.S. carriers have reported 60 incidents since 1998 wiring-related Swissair crash
As a Boeing 757 airliner climbed to 14,000 feet in March, a routine takeoff suddenly became an emergency. Sparks and smoke came out of the passenger cabin’s in-flight entertainment system, cockpit instrument lights lit up, and the rudder and control wheel moved.
The pilots, who reported the incident to a government safety database, said they returned for an ”uneventful” landing. The database doesn’t identify the airline involved or the U.S. airport the flight diverted to, but the timing of the event was significant.
It was the same month the Canadian government concluded that entertainment system wiring may have caused or contributed to a fire that sent a Swissair jet into the ocean near Nova Scotia in 1998, killing all 229 aboard. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board said an entertainment system wire or another wire short-circuited, creating a fiery electric arc that ignited acoustic insulation blankets.
Despite intense scrutiny after the Swissair accident, in-flight entertainment systems continue to malfunction, and U.S. airlines are still being ordered to modify some systems.
A USA TODAY analysis found that since the Swissair accident, U.S. airlines have sent the Federal Aviation Administration 60 ”service difficulty reports” about in-flight entertainment systems, many involving fire, smoke or sparks. Airlines are required by the FAA to report within 72 hours each ”failure, malfunction or defect” that endangers an aircraft’s safe operation.