• Wed. May 11th, 2022

Airline industry warns upcoming 5G rollout could cause problems for travelers

A Verizon team is working on a cell tower in Orem, Utah, in December 2019 to update it to handle the 5G network.

George Frey / AFP via Getty Images

Airline industry executives say while U.S. mobile carriers continue with plans to roll out a specific type of 5G service early next year despite interference issues highlighted by the Federal Aviation Administration, travelers could experience delays and other disruptions in air travel. January 5.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told reporters following a Senate Trade Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon that if AT&T and Verizon proceed with plans to start using C-band spectrum for service 5G in January, its airline could be forced to hijack or cancel around 4% of daily flights, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers.

“It would be a catastrophic failure of the government,” Kirby told reporters, according to Reuters.

The FAA last month warned of potential interference between key cockpit safety devices and ground cell towers transmitting 5G signals. Last week, the FAA issued new guidance for the airline industry, warning that interference from 5G signals using the C-band spectrum could lead to flight hijackings, but the agency does not did not quantify the impact.

Kirby, however, put the impact in concrete terms.

“On January 5, unless something changes, we won’t be able to use radio altimeters at some 40 of the country’s largest airports,” Kirby said, according to a Reuters report. “It’s a certainty. It’s not a debate.”

Kirby added that potential interference issues between 5G cell towers and altimeters would require that in bad weather, such as cloud cover or even heavy smog, pilots be forced to “only make visual approaches” instead of ” use sensitive instruments to guide them through a landing.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told lawmakers at the Senate hearing that if the FAA directive goes into effect, it “will be a major setback” for flight operations.

The wireless industry has repeatedly rebuffed claims that there is harmful interference from 5G in this band of spectrum. In a case filed with the Federal Communications Commission in November, wireless industry lobby group CTIA said that “nearly 40 countries have already adopted rules and deployed hundreds of thousands of 5G base stations in the C band at similar frequencies and power levels. and in some cases, closer to flight operations – than 5G will be in the United States “

The wireless industry’s response

Yet AT&T and Verizon, the two biggest winners in a record-breaking spectrum auction for the airwaves in question, have voluntarily agreed to take precautions to ensure cell phone towers transmitting 5G signals do not interfere. not with aircraft signals. The carriers, along with experts from the FCC, say there are no serious interference issues. But they say they will take those steps temporarily while the FAA studies the matter.

“Aviation safety is of paramount importance, but there is no evidence that 5G operations using the C-band spectrum pose a risk to aviation safety, as confirmed by real-world experience in dozens of countries already using this spectrum for 5G, “said a spokesperson for Verizon. said last week when the FAA released its directive. “Although the new guidelines suggest that the FAA is considering further analyzing this issue, we are confident that it will conclude – as the FCC has already found – that 5G on C-band poses no security risk. Aerial.”

The dispute between the FAA and the wireless industry has called into question the slowdown in 5G deployment plans from companies like AT&T and Verizon. The wireless industry has spent over $ 80 billion on this wireless spectrum, which can transmit 5G signals farther than the ultra-high frequency millimeter wave spectrum, while maintaining the faster download speeds of the low frequency spectrum.

Six former FCC chairmen have criticized aviation regulators for raising their concerns at this late stage.

“The FAA’s position threatens to derail the FCC’s reasoned conclusions after years of technical analysis and study,” said a letter sent to the current FCC chairman and signed by Republicans and Democrats. The former presidents who signed were Ajit Pai, Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Julius Genachowski, Michael Copps and Michael Powell.

The Biden administration is working with the FCC and the airline industry to resolve the issues.