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How Europe rolled out 5G without harming aviation

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How Europe rolled out 5G without harming aviation

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But it’s business as usual in Europe, where the latest generation of high-speed mobile networks is rolling out smoothly.

“Technical data received from EU manufacturers offers no conclusive evidence of immediate safety concerns at this time,” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told CNN Business on Wednesday.

“At the moment, EASA is not aware of any in-service incidents caused by 5G interference,” added the regulator, which oversees civil aviation in 31 European countries.

The story is much the same in the UK, where the Civil Aviation Authority issued a safety advisory on Tuesday stating “there have been no confirmed cases where 5G interference has resulted in aircraft system malfunction or unexpected behavior”.

The lack of alarm in Europe contrasts sharply with the United States, where airlines have warned of catastrophic consequences for aviation and the economy if super-fast 5G mobile service expands without additional safeguards. US airlines and aviation regulators have warned that 5G cellular antennas near airports could distort readings from radar altimeters, which tell pilots how far above ground they are.

“Any failure or interruption of [radar altimeters] can … lead to incidents with catastrophic consequences, potentially resulting in multiple fatalities,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA) said in 2020.

Why is there a potential problem in the United States, but not in Europe? It comes down to technical details.

Mobile phone companies in the United States are rolling out 5G service in a radio wave spectrum with frequencies between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. The companies paid the US government $81 billion in 2021 for the right to use these frequencies, known as C-Band. But in Europe, 5G services use the slower 3.4 to 3.8 GHz spectrum range.

The aviation industry is concerned that the US 5G service is too close to the spectrum used by radar altimeters, which is between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz. Europe does not face the same risk, according to the industry, because there is a much larger buffer between the spectrum used by radar altimeters and 5G.

“If not properly mitigated, this risk has the potential to have broad impacts on airline operations in the United States as well as other regions where 5G network is being implemented alongside. of the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz frequency band,” IATA and IFALPA said in their statement.

What France did

There are other differences in how 5G is deployed, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some countries are using lower power levels, limiting the placement of 5G antennas near airfields and requiring them to be angled downward to limit potential interference with aircraft.

In France — quoted by telecommunications operators such as AT&T (J) and Verizon (VZ) as an example of 5G and aviation working together seamlessly – the height of a 5G antenna and its signal strength determine how far it is allowed from a runway and flight path. a plane, according to a technical note from the National Frequency Agency of France (ANFR).

Antennas around 17 major French airports must also be angled away from flight paths to minimize the risk of interference, the agency’s director of spectrum planning and international affairs, Eric Fournier, told CNN.

“At first, we took quite protective measures because we had little information about the reality of the problem,” Fournier said.

France’s civil aviation authority told CNN on Wednesday that “no 5G technology event interfering with aircraft altimeters has been recorded by French operators.”

The FAA is so concerned about potential interference with altimeters that it issued an urgent order in December prohibiting pilots from using altimeters that might be affected around airports where low-visibility conditions would require them. The rule could prevent planes from reaching certain airports in certain circumstances, as pilots would not be able to land using instruments alone.

EASA acknowledged the FAA’s concerns in December, noting that they “address situations specific to operations in US airspace.” The European regulator has recommended that carriers “consider exposing flight crews to unreliable radio altimeter scenarios” during training and ensure that crews are aware of “the potential degradation in performance of installed radio altimeters” .

In the United States, differences of opinion over the risk posed by 5G have turned into a bitter public dispute involving federal regulators as well as aviation and telecommunications companies. Major carriers, including British Airways, Lufthansa (DLAKY) and Emirates have canceled flights to the United States, citing the issue.
“We weren’t aware that the power of the antennas in the United States [has] has doubled compared to what is happening elsewhere. We were unaware that the antenna itself had been placed in an upright position rather than a slightly tilted position,” Emirates Chairman Tim Clark told CNN Business on Wednesday.

“So based on that, we took the decision last night to suspend all our services until we have clarity,” he added.

AT&T, owner of CNN’s parent company, and Verizon both announced on Tuesday that they would delay the activation of 5G on certain towers around certain airports. The deployment of wireless technology near major airports was scheduled for Wednesday.

“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. “, said Megan Ketterer, spokeswoman for AT&T.

— Chris Liakos contributed reporting.

How Europe rolled out 5G without harming aviation

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