5G wireless service could still disrupt flights, says the US aviation authority

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued new warnings Thursday that the new 5G radio service could still disrupt flights, saying there are “big differences” between US aviation protection and the one used in France.

Late on Thursday, the FAA launched a dedicated 5G and aviation safety website, raising questions about the potential impact on sensitive aircraft electronics such as altimeters.

This week, AT&T and Verizon agreed to take precautions similar to those in France. On Monday, the airlines announced that they would postpone the use of C-band spectrum for wireless services until Jan. 19 – an agreement that aims to avert an air safety crisis and flight disruptions.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden hailed the deal between wireless operators and U.S. regulators that will allow 5G deployment in two weeks. The FAA said the delay would allow it to evaluate ways to minimize altimeter disruption and give companies more time to prepare.

The FAA said 5G airport buffer zones in France cover “96 seconds of flight time” while security precautions around US airports “only protect the last 20 seconds of the flight”. It said the temporarily lower US energy levels will be 2.5 times higher than France. It noted that France requires antennas to be tilted downward to limit harmful interference, a rule the United States lacks.

“If there is a potential for risk to the flying audience, we are required to pause the activity until we can demonstrate that it is safe,” the FAA website said. “Radar altimeters still need to prove safe to fly to these airports across the US 5G environment, so we need to consider the higher signal strength when assessing safety and risk.”

AT&T and Verizon won almost the entire C-band spectrum in an $ 80 billion auction last year (approximately Rs 5.94.215 billion). The FAA issued a bulletin warning in early November that may be needed to address potential disruptions from 5G, prompting airlines to agree to postpone deployment for 30 days until January 5th.

Monday’s deal assured AT&T and Verizon they could begin service this month, and they agreed on temporary buffer zones around 50 airports that the FAA will set by Friday.

The FAA website states that 50 airports are covered because “cell phone companies have only approved 50 airports.” AT&T and Verizon didn’t comment immediately.

Biden said the agreement “puts us on the path to significantly reduce disruption to flight operations after Jan. 19”.

The FAA said that “even with the temporary buffer of around 50 airports, 5G deployment will increase the risk of low visibility disruptions,” including “flight cancellations, rerouted flights and delays during periods of low visibility”.

The FAA said it was working during the two-week delay to “complete the evaluations of the most popular altimeters so some aircraft can operate in 5G and minimize disruption”.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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