[Written By External Partner]
The 5G wireless technology promises to usher in a new frontier of internet-connected technology through ultra-fast download speeds, increased bandwidth and low latency compared to the 4G network. As a result, everything from playing simple internet games like online slot machines and sudoku to bandwidth-heavy activities like cloud computing, video streaming, and video conferencing is a lot more efficient with 5G.
Currently, the wireless industry has invested more than $80 billion in the advanced wireless spectrum that can transmit 5G signals far beyond the ultra-high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum. And even with the larger transmission radius, it still maintains faster download speeds of the low frequency range. With such improvements underway, they will boost the penetration of 5G to transform our lives, mainly in artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR).
However, as with any new technology, the 5G rollout faces some concerns, with the biggest concern being whether the 5G wireless signal poses a risk to the airline industry. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) went as far as warning that the rollout of 5G could lead to flight cancellations, delays and diversions in bad weather and at night when pilots cannot see the runway. With such concerns in mind, AT&T and Verizon, two of the leading wireless network operators in the US, delayed their plans to bring 5G channels online in January 2022. Today, we’ll dig deep into how 5G could impact the aviation industry and whether any action could be taken to avert the potential risks.
Is there a real security problem?
The radar altimeter, a device that pilots use to land planes in bad weather, must be accurate and reliable. However, the airwave spectrum used by the 5G wireless network can cause the signals used by radar altimeters to crash on all aircraft, including passenger and cargo airlines, emergency medical helicopters, and military or private jets.
In addition, the interference from the 5G C-band can affect aircraft engine and braking systems and prevent them from switching to landing mode. This can of course lead to fatalities. As a result, the FAA asked the US government to push 5G wireless network rollout dates as they review data from 46 wireless transmitters in the US that could potentially affect aircraft systems.
Nevertheless, the wireless network operators in the United States have proven that: the 5G network works securely in at least 40 countries worldwide. In addition, US planes already fly in and out of these countries on a daily basis, which is why network carriers are calling the airline industry’s claims exaggerated.
What about flight disruptions?
In an industry hard hit by the covid pandemic, disruptions following the rollout of the 5G wireless network would be catastrophic. For example, based on the worst-case scenario, Airlines of America estimates that the rollout of 5G could disrupt at least 350,000 flights that would cost airlines as much as $2.1 billion a year.
In addition, aircraft manufacturers have warned that some safety systems will be considered inoperable and that much of the fleet will have to be grounded indefinitely. For example, Medivac helicopters could be affected by 5G technology and could ground operations, meaning patients may not be reached in time, which has devastating consequences in the medical field. Therefore, immediate action is required to avoid operational disruptions in the delivery of time-sensitive medical supplies, such as Covid-19 vaccination and testing, the country’s supply chain and airline passengers.
What steps have been taken to address the concerns?
As of mid-January 2022, the FAA has cleared about 45% of the U.S. commercial fleet to land in poor visibility conditions at airports where the 5G wireless network will be deployed. In addition, the FAA has approved two altimeter models that are being widely installed by Airbus and Boeing companies.
Some of the aircraft models that the FAA has approved include Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330, A350 and Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767 and MD-10/-11. However, the number is expected to rise once the FAA approves more aircraft models. Altimeter clearance and approval have opened at least 48 of the 88 airports directly affected.
The FAA also requires Boeing 787 operators to take extra precautions when landing in inclement weather at airports where 5G wireless services have been rolled out. On the other hand, the wireless companies have agreed to create 2-mile buffer zones of airport runways at 50 U.S. airports that may be affected by the 5G signal over the next six months.
In addition, the Aviation Supervisory Authority will continue to provide more information on the expected percentage of aircraft altimeters that can perform accurately and reliably in the 5G wireless environment. Other factors that will be taken into account to ensure a smooth flow in the aviation industry are the number of days with poor visibility, the volume of traffic and the geographic location of the wireless transmitters.
While the evidence in other countries dictates otherwise, it’s too early to say whether the FAA’s concerns are legitimate or not. Fortunately, since the FAA and the wireless companies agreed to create buffer zones around airports, real progress has been made in finding a workable solution that will be a win for both sides.