US Airline Trade Group Calls For 5G Deployment Delay

Aviation group in the United States has voiced its opposition to the arrival of 5G networks near airports, despite not s single report of 5G networks causing problems for aeroplanes in other countries.

Reuters reported that aviation trade group, Airlines for America, has on Thursday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to halt deployment of new 5G wireless service around many airports.

It comes after Airbus Americas CEO Jeffrey Knittel and Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun issued a letter just before Christmas, in which they urged the Biden administration to delay the rollout 5G service on 5 January 2022.

Aviation concerns

At the centre of their argument, is that 5G signals in the US could interfere with plane instruments such as radar altimeters. which measure the distance between aircraft and the ground.

These are used by pilots to make safe landings in low visibility conditions.

Last month the 5G concerns in the aviation sector went public in a big way, when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it shared the aviation industry’s ‘deep concern’ over the rule change that allows the commercial use of 5G C-band spectrum.

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

The FCC pointed out that other countries have studied using this C-band spectrum in wireless networks for more than 17 years, with no reports of any problems in the aviation space.

This and other evidence led the FCC in early 2020 to allow 5G operators to use the C-band, a range of radio frequencies between 3.7 and 4.2 gigahertz.

The FCC 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)”.

Despite this, the American 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”.

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 CTIA, which represents network operators, said operators can use C-band spectrum “without causing harmful interference to aviation equipment”.

Trade group

But now Reuters has reported that Airlines for America, which represents passenger and cargo airlines in the US, has asked the FCC to halt the deployment of new 5G wireless service around many airports, warning thousands of flights could be disrupted.

Both AT&T and Verizon Communications are set on 5 January to deploy C-Band spectrum 5G wireless service they won in an $80 billion government auction.

But the petition from Airlines for America seeks a deployment delay near major US airports including ones in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Boston and Seattle.

“Aircraft will not be able to rely on radio altimeters for numerous flight procedures and thus will not be able to land at certain airports,” the group reportedly said in its emergency FCC petition.

It said wireless interference will “jeopardize the function of critical aircraft safety systems, which in turn threatens to divert or cancel thousands of flights” daily. It said this would disrupt “millions of passenger reservations” along with flight crew schedules and global supply chains.

The petition seeks an FCC decision by noon EST Monday or the group warned it will “seek judicial or other relief” to avoid “immediate and unacceptable safety risks.”

The CTIA meanwhile responded on Thursday, saying “the FCC considered and rejected these claims nearly two years ago after an exhaustive review” and the industry still plans a 5 January launch for 5G service.

The FAA declined to comment on the petition.

In November, AT&T and Verizon had delayed commercial launch of C-band wireless service by a month until 5 January and adopted precautionary measures to limit interference.

Aviation industry groups said that was insufficient. The aviation industry made a counterproposal that would limit cellular transmissions around airports and other critical areas.

No evidence

The aviation concerns must be frustrating for industry experts, who have noted that numerous 5G networks are already safely operating in the band in 40 countries, without a single report of 5G causing harmful interference with air traffic of any kind.

Indeed, experts state there does not seem to be any valid scientific or engineering basis to justify a 5G delay, and there is overwhelming evidence that 5G operates safely in the C-Band without causing harmful interference to air traffic.

The fact 5G signals in this C-band spectrum have been operating in many countries for some time – countries in which US airlines fly in and out of every day, means the aviation sector would have seen a problem long before now.

And the US already has an added a layer of protection called a guard band, that is hundreds of times greater than the separation that exists between wireless and other critical spectrum users.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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