U.S. aviation safety regulators are preparing to issue warnings to pilots and airlines about potential interference with key flight deck safety systems through a new 5G wireless service that is expected to go live in early December, according to current and former government and aviation industry officials briefed on the matter.
The Federal Aviation Administration wrote a special bulletin and accompanying warrants that would say that certain automated features used by pilots to help planes fly and land could be affected by wireless towers on the ground transmitting the new 5G signals, these officials said. FAA actions should not target consumer use of cell phones.
Cockpit systems, common in modern air travel, help planes land in inclement weather, prevent accidents, and avoid mid-air collisions. The FAA has determined that if commercial pilots are unable to use the features, it could lead to flight cancellations, delays or diversions in 46 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas where the towers are located, said these officials.
Officials at the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates commercial use of the airwaves, and the telecommunications industry pushed back on safety concerns, saying the available evidence does not support a conclusion that 5G networks would interfere with aviation. The FCC set its rules for spectrum use early 2020 after considering the potential impact on aviation, paving the way for Verizon Communications Inc. and others to deploy the service.
AIRLINES WITH THE BEST WI-FI
The security concerns of FAA officials are not being met, current and former government officials have said. The FCC and FAA are discussing the issue, and aviation safety regulators may eventually decide to issue more targeted warnings that could result in less disruption to travel, those officials said.
The warnings planned by the FAA are part of a long-standing dispute between the aviation and telecommunications industries and their regulators. There have been disagreements over the severity of the potential risks to security, data sharing and the quality of research, fueling a disconnect between efforts to protect planes and expand the latest wireless networks.
An FCC spokeswoman said the telecommunications regulator remains committed to ensuring aviation safety “while advancing the deployment of new technologies that meet the needs of US businesses and consumers.”
An FAA spokesperson said the agency was working with other government officials “so that aviation and the latest generation of 5G cellular technology can safely coexist.”
The final language and scope of the FAA bulletin, as well as pilot mandates and alerts, have not been determined, current and former government officials said. The FAA may impose restrictions on US air operations and may issue warnings to avoid flying in certain areas such as war zones.
At the heart of the dispute is the US deployment of 5G. Short for fifth generation wireless, 5G technology delivers internet speeds 100 times faster than current 4G service, potentially paving the way for new applications, income and jobs.
To deliver 5G, telecommunications companies need more space on the air. The wireless spectrum is like the earth, in that the number of frequencies available is finite. The FAA-FCC clash is fair the latest in a series of disputes between U.S. government agencies seeking to balance the need to make airwaves available for faster networks, while accommodating existing users.
Technical experts in the US aviation industry fear that certain frequencies used for the 5G service could interfere with radar altimeters, instruments that measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground. If their readings are offset by a few hundred feet, analysis of the aviation industry has determined that this could cause some flight control systems to malfunction.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
John Cox, a former 737 pilot who is now a safety consultant, said wide limits on flights under certain conditions could disrupt air traffic at airports. “If bad weather hits, for example, in the northeast, you will cripple it,” he said.
Meredith Attwell Baker, President of CTIA, a professional association whose members include AT&T Inc., Verizon et T-Mobile United States Inc., said 5G networks operate safely without causing harmful interference, adding that the industry is already using the affected wireless spectrum in 40 countries.
“Any delay in activating this spectrum jeopardizes America’s competitiveness and compromises our ability to provide global leadership in 5G,” she said in a statement.
This is a band of radio frequencies measured between 3.7 and 4.2 gigahertz, known as the C band. The spectrum is considered perfectly suited to 5G networks and already serves mobile phone networks in other countries.
Aeronautical equipment operates at close frequencies, between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz, which increases the possibility of interference. The FCC has reviewed competing industry studies on safety risks and said in a March 2020 order that “well-designed equipment should normally not receive significant interference (let alone harmful interference). “. He said wireless companies could start operating in parts of the C-band on December 5 this year, in addition to other frequencies already in use for 5G.
DELTA CEO EXPLAINS WHY THERE IS NO FREE WIFI ON AIRLINE FLIGHTS
The order noted that the FCC rules include safety protections. For example, wireless operators can only operate on certain frequencies in the C band, leaving a buffer between 5G signals and the frequencies used by aviators.
FCC and FAA staff have spoken every week since August, said a person familiar with the discussions. The White House has since entered into mediation talks, people familiar with the matter said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
Officials from both agencies struggled to gain access to the information, people familiar with the talks said. FCC officials have requested additional data the FAA relies on regarding possible 5G interference, such as specific altimeters that could be affected, some of those people said.
The FAA looked for specific data on the locations, power and angles of 5G towers to determine if they could interfere with the “glide paths” of planes on final approach, current and former government officials said. More specific information could lead to more personalized and less disruptive warnings, they added. In addition to commercial jets, the FAA is concerned about potential interference with small private planes, including medical helicopters that land in hospitals.
Airline business groups said they were monitoring the results of government talks. “We look forward to a resolution,” said a spokesperson for Airlines for America, which represents major US carriers.
This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal