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Boeing and FedEx Fly with Active RFID

Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing has announced that it is working with delivery and logistics leader FedEx to test the effects of regularly beaconing active RFID tags in a functioning aircraft. For a 120-day period ending September 15th, the companies will jointly monitor and evaluate an active tag deployment on one FedEx MD-10 Freighter.
Jun 06, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 6, 2006—Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing has announced that it is working with delivery and logistics leader FedEx to test the effects of regularly beaconing active RFID tags in a functioning aircraft. For a 120-day period ending September 15th, the companies will jointly monitor and evaluate an active tag deployment on one FedEx MD-10 Freighter. The ultimate goal is to increase aircraft part visibility and improve aircraft maintenance by storing inspection data directly on tagged parts.

The tags chosen for the evaluation are provided by Identec Solutions of British Columbia, Canada. Operating at 915 MHz, they can transmit data to distances of 300 feet (compare with passive RFID's typical read range of 10 feet). They are powerful enough to be read from an interrogator positioned outside the aircraft while the aircraft's access doors are closed. For the first 90 days of the evaluation, 40 such tags broadcasting their data every 3 seconds will be deployed. For the remaining 30 days, an additional ten tags will be added to the mix. These ten include eight kilobytes of readable and writable storage onto which FedEx technicians will record inspection data when the freighter passes through the company's main hub in Memphis, Tennessee.

The tags are installed throughout all areas of the aircraft, from its flight deck to avionics department to cargo compartment to wheel walls. Boeing and FedEx will be testing for electromagnetic interference and related environmental effects that the tags might cause. Notably, the companies seem to consider it a forgone conclusion that RFID's effects are benign. Ken Porad, Boeing's RFID program manager, noted how comparatively small the tag's emitted power is. "It's key to keep the power levels of these tags in perspective -- cell phones and laptops emit a great deal more power," he said. Identec's tags transmit less than a milliwatt; cell phones transmit 500. "These tags are very safe for use on an airplane."

Assuming no unforeseen hitches, Boeing will work with the US Federal Aviation Administration to certify that active RFID is indeed safe for use in aircraft. Federal certification would presumably pave the way for far wider adoption throughout the airline and aerospace industry.

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