Major U.S. air carriers have warned against plans by AT&T and Verizon Communications for the use spectrum for 5G wireless services scheduled to start operations in the US on Jan. 5. The U.S air carriers have warned that the plans to use the spectrum for 5G wireless could go a long way to disrupt thousands of daily flights and could also have a cost implication on air passengers for about $1.6 billion annually in delays.
Following a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing, United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby has made it clear that AT&T and Verizon Communications must delay plans to use the C-Band spectrum for 5G wireless services longer than usual, as going ahead with plans can impact about 4% flights daily with delays, diversion or cancellation, affecting thousands of passengers. “It would be a catastrophic failure of government,” Kirby says to reporters.
The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have jointly raised serious concerns about the potential interference the use spectrum for 5G wireless services will have on sensitive aircraft electronics like the radio altimeters. An airborne electronic device capable of measuring the height of the aircraft above terrain immediately below the aircraft. According to Kirby “unless something changes — we will not be able to use radio altimeters at 40-something of the largest airports in the country, it is a certainty. This is not a debate.” He further explained what that translates to be that at major airports across the U.S, in the event of bad weather, cloud cover, or even heavy smog, “you could only do visual approaches essentially”.
This came up just a few days after the FAA issued new airworthiness directives warning that interference from the 5G wireless spectrum could result in flight diversions, however, did not quantify the impact. The Trade group Airlines for America (A4A) has revealed that if the FAA 5G directive had been in operation since 2019, “approximately 345,000 passenger flights, 32 million passengers, and 5,400 cargo flights would have been impacted in the form of delayed flights, diversions, or cancellations.” At the Senate hearing, Southwest Airlines’ Chief Executive, Gary Kelly, mentioned that there “would be a significant setback” to its operations if the FAA directive takes effect.
Meanwhile, the wireless industry is bent on defending the 5G technology. According to CTIA, a wireless trade group, said: “The aviation industry’s fear-mongering relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact.” The group further revealed that 5G has continued to operate safely without causing harmful interference to aviation operations in nearly 40 countries around the world as against warnings of air safety.
The Biden administration is willing to see this issue through, within the shortest time possible. According to news sources, the White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese met with Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to address the issue, sources told Reuters. The White House and the Transportation Department however didn’t comment on the outcome of the meeting. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn has pleaded with airlines to reach an agreement that works with the wireless carriers. Rosenworcel, who initially didn’t make comment also expressed her believes that these spectrum safety issues can be resolved provided both parties come to an agreement.
In addition to agreeing and committing to delay the commercial launch of C-band wireless service until Jan. 5, AT&T and Verizon in November agreed to the adoption of precautionary measures for six months in a bid to limit the effects of interference. Aviation industry groups have concluded that they were insufficient to address air safety concerns and have gone ahead to make a counterproposal. Kirby has revealed that he thinks the FCC and FAA urgently need to “get in a room and talk to each other and solve the problem,” adding that the issue “cannot be solved on the back of airlines.”
A4A has warned that the directive of the FAA would “materially disrupt airline operations” in the country, cargo operators in the estimate “would have cost them $400 million annually” while “the annual impact cost to passengers to be approximately $1.59 billion” of travel delays.
However, wireless carriers are not showing signs of slowing down or backing out on use the 5G spectrum service, a service the industry claims have cost more than $80 billion for acquisition. According to Reuters, the FAA directives order revising airplane and helicopter flight manuals to prohibit some operations requiring radio altimeter data when in the presence of 5G C-Band wireless broadband signals. The FAA has planned to offer more details on the potential interference to airlines before Jan. 5. Also, the FAA plans to have a discussion on which altimeters could be used under the current mitigation plans.
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones. So many countries in the world are quickly adopting the 5G network across the world. Nigeria for example recently announced 2 winners of the contested 3.5 GHz spectrum auction for 5G deployment.