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Here’s why 5G interferes with airplanes

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Here’s why 5G interferes with airplanes

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Here’s everything we know – and don’t know – about the snafu.

Telecommunications companies have deployed 5G networks in various locations across the United States over the past few years, delivering the next generation of cell phone data speeds. But on Wednesday, Verizon and AT&T activated their C-band 5G networks — an important set of radio frequencies that will supercharge the internet as we know it.

Unfortunately, the C-band is near the frequency band used by aircraft radar altimeters, an instrument that tells pilots how high their aircraft is above the ground and is crucial for landing aircraft in difficult conditions. low visibility conditions.

The Federal Communications Commission auctioned C-band spectrum to US wireless carriers last year, selling for $81 billion.
But airlines have warned of dire consequences for transport and the overall economy, fearing C-band technology could interfere with the radar altimeters pilots use to land in low-visibility conditions. (Airlines estimated that 1,000 flight disruptions would occur each day after deployment).

On Tuesday, Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and British Airways all announced changes to some flights, citing the problem. Some have added return flights or changed planes. International carriers seemed caught off guard and needed to act quickly because of the length of these long-haul flights.

National carriers also said they were monitoring the situation.

Airlines for America, a trade association, said in a statement Wednesday that “due to agreements the White House reached with AT&T and Verizon yesterday [to delay 5G deployment at major airports], thousands of flights take off and land safely at airports across the country. »

The FAA said in its own statement that it has also allowed more planes to fly safely near 5G towers, but “flights at some airports may still be affected.”

“Even with these approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected,” the FAA said. “The FAA also continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines for the latest flight schedules.”

United Airlines said it expects “minor disruptions” on Wednesday, but is “pleased the Biden administration has reached a compromise with AT&T and Verizon to avoid mass cancellations.”

What is being done about it?

Transportation regulators were already worried that the version of 5G that was to be enabled could interfere with some instruments on the plane, and many aviation industry groups shared those fears, despite assurances from federal telecom regulators and carriers. wireless.
Aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus also weighed in, warning Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a December letter that the rollout of 5G will cause interference that could “negatively affect aircraft’s ability to operate safely”.
In December, the FAA issued an emergency order prohibiting pilots from using potentially affected altimeters around airports where low-visibility conditions would otherwise require them. The new rule could prevent planes from reaching certain airports under certain circumstances because pilots could not land using instruments alone, and it affects more than 6,800 American planes and dozens of aircraft manufacturers.
Here’s why 5G interferes with airplanes

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The aviation industry has also made a last desperate effort to get wireless carriers to further delay the previously delayed 5G rollout. It was originally scheduled for December 5, 2021.

But the problem was never fully resolved. That’s how we got to this week’s snafu, with airlines scrambling to book or cancel flights. Then AT&T — which owns CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia — and Verizon made 11th-hour commitments to delay the rollout of 5G around certain airports.

A White House official told CNN on Tuesday that the administration is talking with the FAA, FCC, wireless carriers, airlines and aircraft equipment manufacturers to find a solution that still allows the deployment of the 5G without sacrificing flight safety.

But Faye Malarkey Black – the head of the Regional Airline Association, which represents airlines that serve much of rural America – took to Twitter to air complaints that the RAA did not participate in any of the discussions. Her too job that “0% of the regional airline fleet has been cleared for low visibility landings at 5G impacted airports if/when weather drops below minimums. Today’s good weather saves rural America of a serious disruption of air services.”

The FAA only responded that it “reviews test data from altimeters used in regional jets.”

During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, President Joe Biden told reporters: “The question of whether we’re dealing with 5G or not, we’re not dealing with 5G. The fact is that you had two companies — two private companies… They obviously have government regulation and so what I’ve done is pushed as hard as possible to get the 5G people to stick it out and meet what was requested by airlines until they can upgrade them more over the years,” he said, apparently referring to altimeters.

Faye Malarkey Black, however, took a different tone in an interview with CNN. She said what she found “perplexing was all these sorts of victory dances about this deal – that it was a lot and that the crisis was averted. The crisis was not averted. The crisis has been averted for urban centres.”

Why is this happening in the United States and not abroad?

Europe has rolled out 5G without any impact on aviation, in stark contrast to the furore in the United States. The distinction lies in some key technical details.

Wireless carriers in Europe have rolled out new 5G service in the 3.4-3.8 GHz frequency range. The United States is rolling out 5G service in a radio wave spectrum with frequencies between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz, which is a faster range and somewhat closer to the spectrum used by radar altimeters, which between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz.

Here’s why 5G interferes with airplanes

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And, according to the FAA, it’s too close for comfort.

Other countries are also using other mitigation tactics to avoid interference, such as restricting the placement of 5G antennas near airfields and requiring them to be angled downward to limit potential interference with airfields. planes.

As for how to fix America’s woes, Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, weighed in on CNN: “The fix is ​​basically figuring out where the bandwidth is, how much energy used, the tilt of the antennas, the placement of the antennas,” he said. “There are mitigations that can be put in place, it’s just going to take time to do it. The solution can be almost immediate – turn by turn.”

Who is to blame?

It’s not entirely clear.

AT&T and Verizon placed much of the blame on the Federal Aviation Administration in statements Tuesday.

“We are frustrated with the FAA’s failure to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner. “AT&T spokeswoman Megan Ketterer said in a statement.

Verizon said in a separate statement that “the FAA and our country’s airlines have been unable to fully resolve 5G navigation around airports, although it is safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries. “.

Emirates chairman Sir Tim Clark was outspoken about what he sees as the problem, blaming the structure of the US system, saying “this is one of the most delinquent and totally irresponsible” that he has seen in his career in aviation.

He added that the “risks and dangers” should have already been assessed.

Which airports are affected?

We do not know. When the FAA issued its order in December, it included a list of airports that would need 5G buffer zones. But it’s unclear whether AT&T and Verizon have delayed rolling out 5G to all or some of those locations.

It’s also unclear how long they plan to delay the rollout or if changes will eventually need to be made to these antennas before they can be activated.

What else don’t we know?

We still do not know exactly what is blocking all these negotiations. Among the many voices at the table are the FCC, FAA, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, cellphone carriers, and industry groups — and the nature of their current standoff isn’t entirely clear. We don’t know who is asking what. We don’t know if further testing will need to be done.

And, perhaps most troubling, we don’t know when this will all be resolved.

Here’s why 5G interferes with airplanes

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