Federal security officials are directing operators of some Boeing planes to implement additional procedures when landing on wet or snowy runways near upcoming 5G service, as interference from the wireless networks could mean the planes need more space to land.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday malfunctions could prevent systems like thrust reversers on Boeing 787s from intervening, leaving only the brakes to slow the plane. That “could prevent an airplane from stopping on the runway,” the FAA said.
Similar orders could be issued for other aircraft in the coming days. The FAA has asked Boeing and Airbus for information on many models. Boeing said it is working with its suppliers, airlines, telcos and regulators “to ensure that every commercial aircraft model can be operated safely and reliably when 5G is implemented in the United States.”
The order for the Boeing jets comes a day after the FAA began imposing restrictions that airlines and other aircraft operators will face at many airports as AT&T and Verizon roll out a new, faster 5G cellular service on Wednesday.
The agency is still investigating whether these wireless networks will interfere with altimeters, which measure an aircraft’s height above the ground. Data from altimeters is used to help pilots land in poor visibility.
The devices operate on a part of the radio spectrum that is close to the range of the new 5G service called C-Band.
The FAA’s actions this week are part of a larger battle between the aviation regulator and the telecoms industry. The telecom companies and the Federal Communications Commission say 5G networks pose no threat to aviation. The FAA says more studies are needed.
The FAA conducts tests to find out how many airliners have altimeters that could be susceptible to spectrum interference. The agency said this week it expects to estimate the percentage of those planes soon, but didn’t set a date.
“Aircraft with untested altimeters or that need to be upgraded or replaced will not be able to perform low-visibility landings when 5G is deployed,” the agency said in a statement.
The Boeing 787 order includes 137 aircraft in the US and 1,010 worldwide. The 787 is a two-speed aircraft popular on longer routes, including many international flights.
The FAA said that based on information from Boeing, the 787 may not transition properly from flight to landing mode during disruptions, which could delay activation of systems that help slow the plane.
AT&T and Verizon have twice agreed to delay activation of their new networks over concerns from airline companies and the FAA, most recently after the FAA and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg sided with the airline industry. Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson warned that flights could be canceled or diverted to avoid potential safety risks.
As part of an agreement with the telecom companies, the FAA has designated 50 airports that will have buffer zones where the companies will shut down 5G transmitters or make other changes to limit potential disruption through early July.
The 50 includes the three major New York City area airports – LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty – O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Los Angeles International and San Francisco.
This concession by telecom companies was modeled on an approach used in France, although the FAA said last week that France is demanding a more dramatic reduction in the reach of cellphone towers near airports.
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