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By Claire Swedberg

SAE International Revises Aerospace RFID Standard

SAE International has announced that it has recently revised its RFID standard Aerospace Standard (AS) 5678A for passive RFID tags intended for aircraft use. The RFID standard revision was completed by SAE International's G-18 committee and released in December 2015.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in January 2016 that it had published a revised advisory circular (AC) offering guidance on installing and using RFID systems on aviation products and equipment, including the latest revision of SAE International's AS 5678A (see RFID News Roundup: FAA Publishes Draft Revised Advisory for RFID Use on Aviation Products, Equipment). The revised advisory circular, known as AC 20-162A, provides guidance for the proper installation and use of passive RFID tags as installed on aircraft parts and components. The revision overrides an older version, AC 20-162, issued on Sept. 22, 2008.

According to SAE International, the AS 5678A was revised for several reasons. The revision provides a requirements document for RFID tag manufacturers that produce passive-only, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags for the aerospace industry. It also identifies the minimum performance requirements for passive UHF RFID tags for aircraft parts that can only be accessed during ground operations. Finally, it specifies test requirements specific to passive UHF RFID tags for airborne use, in addition to RTCA DO-160 compliance requirements, identifies existing standards applicable to passive UHF RFID tags, and provides a certification standard for RFID tags permanently affixed to aircraft and aircraft parts.

"This is a big area for SAE International in regard to aircraft maintenance," said Logen Johnson, an aerospace standards engineer at SAE International, in a prepared statement. "Essentially, RFID technology enables the airplane to talk to itself in new ways and lets technicians know when there is a problem or when a part requires maintenance. It does this with radio signals. All the technician needs to do is walk by the part with a receiver and the part will transmit information on its status, where it came from, the part number, and where and when it was installed. Also, transitioning from wired to wireless systems is an excellent way to reduce the amount of wiring. The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors for integrated vehicle health monitoring applications instead of wired network sensors will avoid costly redesign to route network cables and the costs of performing safety re-certification."

The G-18 committee is now working to publish AS 6023 for active and battery-assisted RFID tags intended for aircraft use. According to the association, active RFID systems employ self-powered RFID tags to broadcast signals over long distances. Active RFID tags are commonly used as beacons to accurately track the real-time locations of assets or in high-speed environments, such as passing through toll booths. Active tags provide a much longer read range than passive tags, but they are also much more expensive. Active RFID is currently used for such applications as ground support equipment management, cargo and personnel management, and part tracking.

Active RFID is not currently allowed on aircraft due to an FAA restriction, but the G-18 committee hopes that its active RFID standard will help in moving away from this restriction. In the prepared statement, G-18 chairperson Barry Allen said, "The reality is that active RFID technology is already pervasive throughout ground operations and onboard aircraft with electronics carried by passengers and in passenger luggage and cargo: fitness wearable activity trackers, smart watches, bag trackers, smart luggage, GPS trackers, cargo monitors, cycle computers, concussion detectors, and thousands of other devices going by names such as i-beacon, Bluetooth, BLE, Wi-Fi, ANT to name a few. Not to mention all the cell phones and laptops which people forget to turn off."

The AS 6023 standard for active (battery-powered) RFID technology is currently an SAE G18 committee work-in-progress. The committee, which comprises global subject-matter experts, is working to define the minimum standards that such wireless devices must meet in order to ensure the safety of an aircraft and its passengers, according to SAE International.

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