Following a flurry of headlines about the delayed launch of 5G high-speed internet in the US, many travelers are concerned about its potential effect on flight safety.
In early January, US mobile networks Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay their 5G launches, originally planned for December, until January 19 due to aviation issues, following a request from the US transportation secretary. USA, Pete Buttigieg, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Yet this week, top airline executives sent a letter to Buttigieg and other federal officials, saying in no uncertain terms that if the launch goes ahead this week as planned, it could be “catastrophic” for the aviation industry.
On January 18, both AT&T and Verizon said they would delay activating 5G masts near airports, though others would go ahead as planned.
So should air passengers be worried about the start of 5G?
Here’s everything we know so far.
How could 5G affect flights and planes?
High-speed 5G internet uses what’s called “C-band frequencies,” which are similar to those used by modern aircraft to measure altitude.
Airline bosses say the arrival of 5G could interfere with these aircraft instruments and cause flight disruptions.
There are particular concerns about radio altimeters, which tell pilots their altitude while flying in poor visibility.
Air ambulance operators in the US have also raised concerns, as commercial helicopters often use a device called a radar altimeter to ensure safe landings.
In turn, the mobile networks argue that the aviation industry has had years to update its instruments.
Some aviation leaders are calling for 5G to be delayed in areas around US airports.
The concerns have already been addressed, at least in part. The FAA said earlier this month that it would not oppose a 5G launch after the technology companies involved agreed to reduce power at 5G transmitters near airports for the first six months after launch.
However, it also announced in December that flights that rely on a radio altimeter might need to be rescheduled if there was a risk of 5G interference, effectively pitting mobile networks against the airline industry.
On January 19, the aviation body announced that it had authorized several types of radio altimeters used by US aircraft, meaning that about 62% of US commercial aircraft are now cleared for low-visibility landings at airports near 5G transmitters. .
However, “even with these new approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected,” they confirmed.
“Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible.”
Boeing 787s are particularly affected, with the FAA confirming last week: “During the two-week delay in rolling out the new 5G service, safety experts determined that 5G interference with the aircraft’s radio altimeter could prevent the engine and brake systems go into landing mode, which could prevent an aircraft from stalling on the runway.”
This could mean delays or cancellations for these types of aircraft that would need to land in poor visibility conditions near a 5G transmitter.
Who calls for 5G to be delayed further?
On January 17, the CEOs of Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest, as well as six other passenger and cargo airlines, published an open letter.
The collective warned that if C-Band 5G service goes ahead on January 19, it “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans abroad.”
The letter, attributed to Airlines for America and signed by several aviation chiefs, claimed that the launch would cause “chaos” in general for US aviation.
“Immediate intervention is needed to prevent significant operational disruption to air passengers, carriers, the supply chain and the delivery of necessary medical supplies,” the letter urges.
“Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are large swathes of the operating fleet that may need to be grounded indefinitely.
“Multiple modern security systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subject to cancellation, diversion or delay.
“To be frank, the nation’s trade will come to a halt.”
Aviation chiefs have asked that 5G transmitters not be activated within a two-mile radius of the top 50 US airports.
They say the FAA needs more time to investigate how closer 5G transmission could be implemented without resulting in a “catastrophic outage.”
Which it was the result?
As of January 18, AT&T and Verizon have agreed to scale back their 5G rollout at some or all airports.
On Tuesday, an AT&T spokesperson said some 5G services near airports would be delayed, though others would go live as planned.
He added: “We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely implement 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner.”
Verizon said it had “voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports.”
The FAA released a statement Monday saying it “will continue to keep the traveling public safe as wireless carriers roll out 5G” and stressed that it “continues to work with the aviation industry and wireless carriers to try to limit delays and cancellations.” of 5G-related flights. .”
The plan is for the FAA to lift restrictions on aircraft one by one, as airlines prove their altimeters can work when C-band technology is activated.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.