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Airline disconnects laptop ports because of wiring safety concerns

SHARE Airline disconnects laptop ports because of wiring safety concerns

CHICAGO Bloomberg — United Airlines disconnected power to laptop computer ports on some of its Boeing 777s because of concerns that wiring for the ports could be a hazard.

United disabled the in-seat ports on 24 of its 777s in late April because it found their wiring, which runs from the seat up the side of the plane to the cabin ceiling, was too close to other wiring. United spokesman Matt Triaca said the problem, first reported in Friday's Wall Street Journal, hasn't caused any dangerous incidents.

"As a precautionary measure, we thought it would be best to turn off the laptop power until we came up with a new design solution for the wiring," Triaca said.

American Airlines said it's inspecting the wiring on its entire 700-plane fleet following a single incident involving a laptop port aboard an Airbus flight from London to Boston in May. American diverted the Airbus A300 plane to Shannon, Ireland, because of a problem with the port and a resulting acrid smell.

American believes the port problem on the diverted flight was related to a loose wire that chafed against the metal of a plane seat, spokesman John Hotard said.

"We just went through to make sure that there is nothing loose under the seats, that everything is where it should be," Hotard said. 'We have not found any other problems."

The inspections should be complete in the next two weeks, he said. The airline is also considering using additional shielding on wiring as a further precaution, he said.

United's Outside Vendor

American also operates Boeing 777 aircraft but unlike United it had wiring for its laptop ports installed by Boeing. United said it used an outside vendor to wire the 777 ports and disconnected them when it found that the wiring didn't meet Boeing specifications. United wouldn't identify the vendor.

"They did not maintain the quarter-inch separation from other wiring that Boeing requires," United spokesman Joe Hopkins said.

The wiring problem affected only 24 of United's 41 Boeing 777s because the other 17 planes, which are a different model, don't have the port.

United expects to have the ports operating again by December or January. Business travelers are big users of the ports because the outlets allow them to continue working on their computers during long flights.

United's 777s are used mainly for flights between the U.S. and Europe and between the U.S. and South America. The airline hasn't disconnected the ports on its Boeing 767 and 747 aircraft, which are also used for international flights.

"The response has been pretty muted — we haven't really heard any outcry," Triaca said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been prodding airlines to recheck wiring for their in-cabin electronic devices, such as the ports and entertainment systems, to make sure they were installed correctly, the Journal reported.

Swissair disconnected its inflight entertainment systems on MD-11s and Boeing 747s after a probe of the September 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111, which killed all 229 onboard, uncovered "various signs of heat stress" near the doomed MD-11's cockpit. Cables for the in-flight entertainment system ran under the cockpit. The cause of that crash is still unknown.

The company is replacing the entertainment system with a new DVD movie program option, said Swissair's Jackie Pash.

After the crash, the FAA ordered U.S. airlines to inspect cockpit wiring and insulation of MD-11 aircraft for chafing and loose connections to prevent potential wiring hazards.