Air Safety Regulators Voice ‘Deep Concern’ Over 5G Interference

US air-safety regulators are reportedly preparing to issue formal warnings to pilots and airlines over their concerns that new 5G rules in the country could lead to interfere with flight-traffic systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preparing a special bulletin with accompanying mandates on the issue, which could lead to restrictions on flights and disruption to travel, according to multiple reports.

The FAA is in a long-running dispute with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has said it does not believe the 5G systems would interfere with flight equipment.

The controversy arises from the FCC’s decision in early 2020 to allow 5G operators to use the C-band, a range of radio frequencies between 3.7 and 4.2 gigahertz.

Disruption

Some experts in the US aviation industry worry that the C-band could interfere with radar altimeters, which measure the distance between aircraft and the ground.

Such interference could cause certain flight-control systems to malfunction, aviation industry analysts have determined.

Operators are to begin using C-band spectrum starting on 5 December in 46 countries.

The US aviation industry has been voicing its concern over the C-band plan for more than a year, and FAA deputy administrator Bradley Mims said in a 6 October letter that the FAA shares the industry’s “deep concern”, Reuters reported.

The FCC said it remains committed to ensuring air safety “while moving forward with the deployment of new technologies that support American business and consumer needs”.

Next-generation spectrum

The agency reviewed competing industry studies about the safety risks and said in a March 2020 order that “well-designed equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference)”.

The aerospace and airline sector met with the FCC in August, saying at the time that “major disruptions to use of the National Airspace System can be expected from the rollout of 5G”  and adding that the technology could force the FAA to “drastically reduce aviation operational capacity”.

The FAA said in a statement that it “continues to engage with other agencies so that aviation and the newest generation of 5G cellular technology can safely coexist”.

The CTIA, which represents network operators, said operators can use C-band spectrum “without causing harmful interference to aviation equipment”, and noted that numerous 5G networks are already safely operating in the band in 40 countries.

Competitiveness

“Any delay in activating this spectrum risks America’s competitiveness,” the industry group said.

The aviation industry said some altimeters could be retrofitted with out-of-band filters, but that the process would take years and “many thousands of civil aircraft are likely to be impacted”.

The FAA and the FCC are continuing to discuss the issue, and the FAA could eventually decide to issue more targeted warnings that would result in fewer travel disruptions, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing current and former government officials.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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