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Boeing, FedEx Test Active UHF Tags

The two companies have begun a proof-of-concept test to seek the FAA's approval to place battery-powered UHF RFID tags on aircraft parts.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
If tags were being used for a real business purpose, such as for parts tracking or supply-chain management, they would not be set to beacon mode during flight because there would be no business benefits in doing so. There would also not be any business value in interrogating the tags during the trip, since the parts, assets or products to which the tags would be attached could not be removed to have maintenance done to them while in flight.

Because the RF power emitted from the tag is measured at 1 milliwatt, the FAA believes the tags will not result in any interference with the plane's electronic flight instrumentation and communications systems—either on the ground or in the air.

Throughout the 90-day period, FedEx engineering staff will inspect the tags to ensure that they remain securely fastened to the parts. (photo courtesy Jack Kenner)
Porad and James Ford, manager of engineering support for FedEx, both assert that the probability of active tags interfering with the plane's electronic instruments and communication systems is virtually nil. "A tag transmits one one-thousandth of a watt," says Porad. "Compare that with a cell phone, which emits 500 milliwatts." The FAA agrees with the assessment that transmitting tags are likely benign to a plane's operation, at least enough so as to condone the presence of transmitting tags on the in-service plane used in the test.

Still, FedEx will watch for any anomalies that may occur during the plane's day-to-day flight schedule during the 90 days for which the tags will be transmitting an RF signal. The IQ-8 tag operates at 915 MHz, a frequency unused by any crucial on-board avionics or satellite communications equipment. FedEx will report any irregularities to the FAA. According to FedEx, the pilots would be alerted to the presence of the tags on the plane.

Throughout the 90-day period, FedEx engineering staff will inspect the tags to ensure that they remain securely fastened to the parts. To attach a tag, staff cleaned a section of the part. Once the part was dry, a layer of silicone adhesive was spread on the part, atop which a tag was manually applied. The IQ-8 tag has a plastic housing and can withstand both high and low temperature extremes. Neither Porad nor Ford expects the tags to suffer any environmental damage from exposure to heat or cold during flight.

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