A major Airbus software bug can be averted just by turning the plane off then on again
The first rule of tech support: if your device isn't working, turn it off and then turn it back on again. It's a solution that works with surprising frequency when your phone, laptop, or gaming console freezes up. As it turns out, it's also the go-to troubleshooting method for a $300 million commercial plane. A recently discovered flaw in older versions of software running on the Airbus A350 requires pilots to completely shut down and restart the airplane at least once every 149 hours to avoid any complications.
An advisory published by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EUASA) first warned of an issue in the Airbus model — which is used by major airlines including Delta — back in 2017. But a recent revision to the advisory has been added following the discovery of a software bug. According to the EUASA, planes operating on older versions of software suffer from an issue that can throw off the internal timer of the aircraft, which can result in significantly bigger issues that may interfere with or affect flight. The agency said that those problems vary from loss of redundancies to complete loss of certain functions on the plane and, if not corrected, "could lead to partial or total loss of some avionics systems or functions, possibly resulting in an unsafe condition."
Obviously, the stakes are quite a bit higher here than when your phone won't launch an app fast enough for your liking, but as it turns out the solution is basically the same. The EUASA advised pilots to complete a full power cycle once every 149 hours (basically once every six days) in order to ensure the software continues to operate as expected. That means shutting the plane down completely and rebooting it.
Of course, there is another solution to this problem: updating the software of the plane. The affected planes have been in circulation since 2013, and more recent versions of the company's software remedy the bug that causes issue for the plane's internal timer. However, airlines aren't always eager to perform software updates no matter how necessary they may be. Doing so requires taking the plane out of service for a period of time to perform the necessary maintenance and undergo quality assurance testing to make sure the update is properly installed and won't cause any issues once the plane takes flight again. That all takes considerably more time than simply making sure to shut down the plane and start it back up once every few days.
The Airbus issue doesn't quite reach the same heights of concern caused by Boeing's significant software issues that plagued the company's 737 Max jet earlier this year. The critical flaw related to that plane is believed to have resulted in two crashes that killed 346 people. Those planes have been grounded until some of the issues have been sorted out. In the case of Airbus, it's more of an inconvenience than anything, though leaving the issue unaddressed for any extended period could cause problems for a pilot during flight. It just proves that no matter the size of the device you're talking about, sometimes technology solutions are universal.