While most airlines have been operating normally since the rollout of 5G at airports nationwide, there are a percentage of airlines who rely on planes whose landing systems could be affected by the 5G deployment that was rolled out on January 19th, after a two week delay.
The FAA has issued several statements on this matter, including their latest which states that 78% of the US airline fleet has been cleared for low-visibility landing at airports where 5G has been deployed. 5G rollout is expected to affect altimeters on certain types of aircraft that use a different type of technology than those have passed the tests.
This becomes a serious issue when the planes are attempting to land in low visibility conditions, as it can provide an inaccurate measurement of the distance between the plane and the ground. The danger of this situation would seem obvious, but to restate, these particular types of aircraft cannot land in low visibility because the plane’s devices will think that the plane is closer to or farther from the ground than it actually is, increasing the risk of a crash landing.
According to the FAA’s 5G safety website, 5G towers use “frequencies in a radio spectrum called the C-band. These frequencies can be close to those used by radio altimeters, an important piece of safety equipment in aircraft. To make sure that this does not lead to hazardous interference, the FAA requires that radio altimeters are accurate and reliable.
Because the proposed 5G deployment involves a new combination of power levels, frequencies, proximity to flight operations, and other factors, the FAA must impose restrictions on flight operations using certain types of radio altimeter equipment close to antennas in 5G networks. ”
Dubai-based Emirates, who is the largest operator of Boeing 777s, had halted flights to airports in Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Jersey, Orlando, Florida, San Francisco and Seattle due to these concerns, while flights to New York, LA and Washington would continue as normal.
According to Robert Mann, an industry expert, “[The disruption from 5G technology] applies not only at or near airports, but it disrupts terrain avoidance, weather services and navigation services that aircraft have come to rely on. The irony is that this issue has been well-known for over a decade but was overlooked or consciously avoided when telecoms firms were granted the franchises.”
He is referring to the telecom giants, including Verizon and AT&T being granted licenses in the C-band range at the end of the Trump administration. According to a whitepaper published by the Radio Technical Committee for Aeronautics (RTCA), this issue was well-known before the frequencies were auctioned off.
According to their report, “Radar altimeters are the only sensor onboard a civil aircraft which provides a direct measurement of the clearance height of the aircraft over the terrain or other obstacles, and failures of these sensors can therefore lead to incidents with catastrophic results resulting in multiple fatalities.”
The report continues, “The aviation industry has explained to the FCC that further study was needed to adequately characterize the performance of currently fielded radar altimeters operating in the presence of RF interference from future 5G networks in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band, as well as the risk of harmful interference and associated impacts to safe aviation operations, such that appropriate mitigations could be employed before such 5G networks begin operation. RTCA Special Committee 239 (SC-239) formed a 5G Task Force in April 2020
to lead this study effort as a multi-stakeholder group with open participation from the interested public.
The results presented in this report reveal a major risk that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band will cause harmful interference to radar altimeters on all types of civil aircraft—including commercial transport airplanes; business, regional, and general aviation airplanes; and both transport and general aviation helicopters. The results of the study performed clearly indicate that this risk is widespread and has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States, including the possibility of catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations.”
The expert quoted above, Mann, also said, “We have a very safety conscious industry on one hand, in which if customers have to worry about safety or reliability they’re not interested in the service at all, and on the other, a swash-buckling, let’s-make-a-deal telecoms that wants to sell you a fast video download without regard to its effect on others”
According to NPR, “The CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest, United and FedEx, are urging federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, to establish 2-mile 5G-free buffer zones around runways.” This is an ongoing issue, with expected updates in the coming weeks.
The following is the latest press release from the FAA regarding this issue.
January 20, 2022: The FAA issued new approvals Thursday that allow an estimated 78 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band. This now includes some regional jets.
Airplane models with one of the 13 cleared altimeters include all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, MD-10/-11; all Airbus A300, A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, A350 and A380 models; and some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets.
The FAA is working diligently to determine which altimeters are reliable and accurate where 5G is deployed in the United States. We anticipate some altimeters will be too susceptible to 5G interference. To preserve safety, aircraft with those altimeters will be prohibited from performing low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed because the altimeter could provide inaccurate information.
Passengers should check with their airlines for latest flight schedules.
Banner Image: Airplane ready for departure. Image Credit – Matt Hardy