The rollout of 5G wireless service by some telecom carriers in the United States has kicked up a row with the US airline industry seeking Federal government intervention citing the service’s potential to interfere with radar altimeters, the equipment that pilots use to land planes in poor weather.
Airlines warned that the fifth-generation wireless technology, widely known as 5G, could interfere with sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters, significantly hampering low-visibility operations and grounding planes.
They are concerned that the airwave spectrum used by the new 5G service, known as the C-band, could clash with the signals used by radio altimeters.
The impending switch-on of 5G mobile phone services will cause "major disruption" to flights, top executives of some US airlines warned.
When deployed next to runways, the 5G signals could interfere with the key safety equipment that pilots rely on to take off and land in inclement weather, they argued.
CEOs from 10 airlines in the United States urged the Biden administration to push back the already-delayed rollout.
Airlines estimate 1,000 flight disruptions a day because of possible interference with radar altimeters that pilots use to land in low visibility conditions.
They say immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies", including vaccine distribution.
"Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swathes of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded,” the airline CEOs noted in a statement.
The telecommunications industry in the United States and some US airlines are locked in a high-stakes battle, with one side claiming it is keeping up with modern technological demands and the other insisting it is protecting the travelling public, according to NBC News.
5G promises to deliver ultrafast internet speeds, extra bandwidth and increased connectivity. Telecommunications companies around the world are racing to roll out the service.
They have spent billions of dollars on upgrading their networks to deploy the 5G technology, which brings much faster internet services and greater connectivity.
“Next-generation 5G technologies will be the backbone of our economic future," Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.
She noted the deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world.
“The FAA has a process in place to assess altimeter performance in the 5G environment and resolve any remaining concerns. It is essential that the FAA now complete this process with both care and speed,” Rosenworcel said.
However, in a letter to US transportation and economic officials, the CEOs of major airlines said the launch could ground flights and strand "tens of thousands of Americans" overseas.
The airlines warned that the 5G signals risked interfering with safety equipment pilots rely on to take off and land in inclement weather.
Interestingly, telecom giants Verizon and AT&T said they will temporarily limit 5G service around some airports, in the wake of airlines' warnings about "catastrophic" disruption from this week's rollout.
AT&T said it will voluntarily defer activating a limited number of towers located around particular runways amid the continuing row about the impact of 5G transmissions on airline operations.
AT&T and Verizon are both due to switch on their 5G networks soon, having already delayed the activation of the 5G services for two weeks.
However, the airline industry seems still worried about the fallout from widespread flight cancellations fuelled by the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and a series of winter storms that caused travel chaos across the US.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that several international airlines will cancel flights into the United States amid uncertainty about interference between new 5G cell phone service and critical airplane technologies.
Transportation regulators, according to CNN had already been concerned that the version of 5G that was scheduled to be switched on (in January) could interfere with some airplane instruments, and many aviation industry groups shared those fears — despite reassurances from federal telecom regulators and wireless carriers.
Specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration has been worried that 5G cellular antennas near some airports — not air travellers' mobile devices — could throw off readings from some aircraft equipment designed to tell pilots how far they are from the ground.
Those systems, known as radar altimeters, are used throughout a flight and are considered “critical equipment”.
The airline industry say the US government's current 5G rollout plan will have a “devastating” impact on aviation, “negatively” affecting millions of passengers, thousands of flights, and much-needed goods and cargo travelling through some of the largest airports in the country annually.