Thursday, July 25, 2024

Explained: 5G Induced ‘Aviation Crisis’

By Aritra Banerjee

Indian Aerospace & Defence explains the ongoing 5G crisis looming over the aviation industry and highlights recent developments by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) on the continuing issue. 

What Is The Dispute Between The Airline & Telecom Industry About? 

Fifth Generation cellular network is the next evolution; 5G is slated to facilitate uber-fast services such as enhanced download speeds, among other user-friendly features. American telecom companies AT&T and Verizon have been in the works to roll out 5G technology over the past months; this has been a significant point of contention between telecom and civil aviation giants over perceived airline disruptions. 

5G services were slated for launch in December 2021 however were delayed following concerns by the aviation industry, with the roll-out of 5G services postponed to 3 January 2022. The launch was further delayed by another two weeks (18 January), with 19 January being described by some experts as 5G D-Day Wednesday.

Delaying A Major Telecom Project

It may be poignant to note that AT&T and Verizon have expended $64 million to procure C-Band licences, a radio frequency band between 3.7 GHz and 4.2 GHz, delivering services in lightning-fast speed with extensive coverage. The C-Band in 5G technology led to concerns within the aviation industry that it may hamper airline operations. However, it is also pertinent to note that 5G services have been initiated in 40 countries without any reported disruption.

Nonetheless, airline giants wrote to United States President Joe Biden, requesting his intervention in this ongoing ‘aviation crisis.’ The development prompted AT&T and Verizon to postpone the operationalisation of 5G towers within a two-mile radius of airport runways as recommended by aviation industry specialists. However, the telecom giants maintained that they would proceed to go ahead with their launch of 5G technology on Wednesday, 19 January. 

What Are The Aviation Industries’ Exact Concerns Over 5G? 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), FAA, and the telecom industry have assured that 5G will not hinder flight operations; the aviation industry maintains its reservations over the roll-out on its effect on the aforementioned cockpit operations and the aircraft’s altimeter operations. 

An aircraft’s altimeter measures the distance between a plane and the land; pilots use them during low-visibility conditions and emergency landings. Altimeters are used in all types of aviation services, including cargo ships. The concern is that the C-Band of 5G technology will affect the visibility during flight operations. 

What Are Potential Solutions? 

Many countries where 5G services have been rolled out have resorted to using lower power levels around airports. This measure was also proposed by the FAA. According to a statement by the FAA, the option of reducing 5G interference is being reviewed. The FAA will also prioritise airports and review information on the buffer zones around critical airports.  

However, while the FAA is clearing aircraft installed with specific radar altimeters that can land at 5G sensitive airports, it has been noted that there are chances that pilot confidence in their instruments may be a matter of grave concern.

FAA Okays Nearly Half Of US Passenger Jets Ahead Of 5G Rollout

An FAA statement issued on 16 January 2022 indicated that it cleared an estimated 45% of the United States commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where the 5G C-band will be deployed on 19 January.

The agency approved two radio altimeter models installed in a wide variety of Boeing and Airbus planes. This combination of aircraft and altimeter approval opens up runways at as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-band interference. 

As of 5 January, none of the 88 airports would have been available for landing during low-visibility conditions. The wireless companies agreed to create buffer zones around airports where transmitters are nearby for six months. They also agreed to delay deployment until 19 January while the FAA reviewed new data detailing the location and power of wireless transmitters in all 46 US markets where this service will be deployed.

Even with these new approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected. The FAA also works with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines if the weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible. 

The aeroplane models approved include some Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, MD-10/-11 and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330 and A350 models. The FAA expects to issue more approvals shortly. 

FAA Working To Adopt New Airworthiness Directives For Boeing Planes 

On 19 January, the FAA issued a rule for all The Boeing Company Model 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10 aeroplanes. 

This directive, made effective on 19 January, was prompted by a determination that radio altimeters cannot be relied upon to perform their intended function if they experience interference from wireless broadband operations in the 5G C-Band.

The notion was further reinforced by the idea that, during landings, as a result of this interference, specific aeroplane systems may not correctly transition from air to ground mode when landing on certain runways, resulting in degraded deceleration performance and longer landing distance than usual due to the effect on thrust reverser deployment, speed brake deployment and increased idle thrust. 

This directive requires revising the limitations and operating procedures sections of the existing aeroplane flight manual (AFM) to incorporate regulations prohibiting certain landings and the use of specific minimum equipment list (MEL) items, and to incorporate operating procedures for calculating landing distances when in the presence of 5G C-Band interference as identified by Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs). 

The FAA is issuing this directive to address these products’ unsafe conditions, and the organisation awaits comments from stakeholders by 7 March 2022.

Aviation industry competitors, Boeing and Airbus, came together to raise a red flag over 5G connectivity; this development was seen as being indicative of the magnitude of the potential threat the new cellular development poses to airline safety. Even India’s national airline ‘Air India’ has halted US operations for the time being. 


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