British flyers warned they could get caught up in 5G 'chaos'

British flyers warned they could get caught up in 5G ‘chaos’: Passengers heading to US are urged to check bookings after American airlines said nation’s 5G rollout could ground planes from tomorrow

  • CEOs of major US airlines warned of a ‘catastrophic’ aviation crisis tomorrow 
  • Warned they will have to ground planes over fears 5G could hit safety systems
  • UK industry bodies and mobile networks have played down their concerns  
  • DOES 5G interfere with aeroplane instruments? The debate rages on 

    The debate about whether 5G has the potential to interfere with crucial aeroplane instruments is intense and unresolved. 

    The carriers, Boeing, and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) say there is potential for interference with vital aircraft instruments that operate in the 4.2 to 44 GHz range, such as radio altimeters that tell pilots their altitude as they fly in low visibility.

    In short, the fear is that false altitude readings could confuse pilots as they approach the runway in poor visibility conditions, with potentially disastrous results.

    However, the mobile companies deny this, with a spokesman for Verizon saying: ‘Air safety is of paramount importance, but there is no evidence that 5G operations using C-band spectrum pose any risk to aviation safety, as the real-world experience in dozens of countries already using this spectrum for 5G confirms.’ 

    UK regulators are also unconcerned, with the CAA, Britain’s equivalent of the FAA, saying there had been ‘no reported incidents’ of aircraft systems being affected in UK airspace. Ofcom said: ‘We’ve done our own technical analysis and are yet to see any evidence that would give us cause for concern.’ 

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    British passengers heading to the US tomorrow have been urged to check their bookings for cancellations after American airlines warned the nation’s 5G rollout could ground planes. 

    The chief executives of major US carriers have warned of an impending ‘catastrophic’ aviation crisis on Wednesday when AT&T and Verizon finally deploy their new 5G services.

    The two companies have spent tens of billions of dollars to license the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz frequency range for its new high-speed C-Band 5G service.

    But officials with the US Federal Aviation Administration and aeroplane manufacturer Boeing have warned that there is potential for interference with vital aircraft instruments that operate in the 4.2 to 44 GHz range, such as radio altimeters that tell pilots their altitude as they fly in low visibility. 

    In short, the fear is that false altitude readings could confuse pilots as they approach the runway in poor visibility conditions, with potentially disastrous results. 

    US airlines are warning that they will ground aeroplanes over safety concerns, despite other authorities including the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ofcom and the mobile networks insisting there is no evidence 5G interferes with aircraft systems. 

    Paul Charles, a travel expert from the PC Agency, said that until the debate is resolved Brits needed to keep an eye on any disruption. 

    He told MailOnline: ‘The key advice is that if you’re flying to the US tomorrow then make sure you’re checking whether flights are affected. 

    ‘There’s no evidence of any problems in other countries including the UK of 5G interfering with aircraft safety systems, so I think it’s a case of American airlines needing more education before 5G can be rolled out

    ‘But from a passenger point of view, the advice is to plan your trip is normal and check for any cancellations.’

    UK carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have not said if they expect their services to be affected. 

    The CEOs of some of America's largest airlines wrote to federal officials on Monday warning about the potential negative effects of 5G

    The CEOs of some of America’s largest airlines wrote to federal officials on Monday warning about the potential negative effects of 5G

    The US airline CEOs claimed in their letter that interference to aeroplanes’ altimeters could result in ‘more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays.’

    Other planes could be grounded permanently because the altimeter provides signals to their mandated safety features. 

    Action is urgent, they added in the letter, writing: ‘To be blunt, the nation´s commerce will grind to a halt.’ 

    It was signed by the chief executives of American Airlines, JetBlue Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, as well as officials from FedEx Express and UPS Airlines. 

    Verizon and AT&T have since agreed to push back the launch of their new service from January 4, but it is now set to debut on Wednesday.

    The evolution of mobile broadband up to 5G

    The evolution of the G system started in 1980 with the invention of the mobile phone which allowed for analogue data to be transmitted via phone calls.   

    Digital came into play in 1991 with 2G and SMS and MMS capabilities were launched. 

    Since then, the capabilities and carrying capacity for the mobile network has increased massively. 

    More data can be transferred from one point to another via the mobile network quicker than ever.

    5G is expected to be 100 times faster than the currently used 4G. 

    Whilst the jump from 3G to 4G was most beneficial for mobile browsing and working, the step to 5G will be so fast they become almost real-time. 

    That means mobile operations will be just as fast as office-based internet connections.

    Potential uses for 5g include: 

    • Simultaneous translation of several languages in a party conference call 
    • Self-driving cars can stream movies, music and navigation information from the cloud
    • A full length 8GB film can be downloaded in six seconds. 

    5G is expected to be so quick and efficient it is possible it could start the end of wired connections.  

    By the end of 2020, industry estimates claim 50 billion devices will be connected to 5G.

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    When that happens, the airline CEOs warned federal officials on Monday, a significant number of widebody aircrafts will become unusable and  ‘could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas.’

    ‘Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,’ the CEOs wrote.

    ‘The harm that will result from deployment on January 19 is substantially worse than we anticipated for two key reasons,’ they explained.

    For one, they said, even though the FAA announced it had cleared for use two radar altimeters used in some Boeing and Airbus jets so they could perform low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed, the list did not include many large airports.

    Additionally, they argued, because radio altimeters provide critical information to other safety and navigation systems in modern aeroplanes, multiple modern safety systems ‘will be deemed unusable.’

    ‘Aeroplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.’ 

    ‘The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable,’ the CEOs wrote as they asked officials ‘that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways’ at some key airports.

    ‘Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies.’

    The carriers added they urge action to ensure ‘5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.’ 

    The letter, which was obtained by DailyMail.com, went to White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

    Airlines for America, the group that organized the letter, declined to comment. The government agencies did not immediately comment. 

    Modern planes, like the one seen here, contain altimeters, which measures altitude and allows pilots to fly when visibility is limited

    Modern planes, like the one seen here, contain altimeters, which measures altitude and allows pilots to fly when visibility is limited 

    US airlines claim 5G can render radar altimeters unreliable. Pictured is a Verizon 5G tower going up in Utah

    US airlines claim 5G can render radar altimeters unreliable. Pictured is a Verizon 5G tower going up in Utah 

    AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on January 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to cut potential interference for six months. 

    They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff.

    The CEOs of major airlines and Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun held a lengthy call with Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday to warn of the looming crisis, officials told Reuters.

    But the issue doesn’t just affect aeroplanes – they could also have a negative effect on the nation’s helicopters, including lifesaving medevac choppers.

    Under US law, all commercial helicopters must have a working altimeter in order to fly. Without them, officials warn, landing in remote areas or on hospital landing pads will be near impossible.

    Helicopter Association International petitioned the FAA in October asking for medevacs to be exempt from the law when 5G rolls out, and the FAA granted it last week for areas where 5G C-Band interference could affect the radio altimeter. 

    HOW DOES 5G AFFECT PLANES?  

    AT&T and Verizon have spent tens of billions of dollars to license the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz frequency range for the new high-speed C-Band 5G service. 

    The C-band is a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in the microwave range of frequencies ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz (GHz), although the US Federal Communications Commission has designated 3.7-4.2 GHz as C band too. 

    The problem is that wireless spectrum used by 5G networks could interfere with radio altimeters, which measure a plane’s altitude – especially important for low-visibility operations. 

    Airlines fear that C-band 5G signals will disrupt planes’ navigation systems, particularly those used in bad weather. 

    This interference with radio altimeters, which measure a plane’s altitude, could lead to the loss of radar altitude information or, worse, incorrect radar altitude information unknowingly being generated, they say. 

    ‘The issue is that the C-band frequency used for 5G in the US is a little bit close to the frequencies used by altimeters,’ Roslyn Layton, vice president at Strand Consult, told Tech Monitor

    The radio altimeter is a critical aviation safety technology that indicates the airplane’s height and supports safe landing.

    It operates in the 4.2-4.4 GHz spectrum band; cell phones are currently not permitted to operate in that band or any nearby band to prevent interference. 

    However, if telecommunication authorities reallocate the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for 5G, the risk of interference could increase. 

    The airlines want 5G signals to be excluded from ‘the approximate two miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA on 19 January 2022’. 

    This would ensure that no airplanes are affected by the 5G interference, they say. 

    There have been fatal accidents associated with incorrect radar altitude, most recently Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 in Amsterdam in 2009. 

    The FAA has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and make an impact on low-visibility operations. 

    So this threat could compromise key safety systems and result in suspended passenger and cargo flights. 

    For passengers, flights may be cancelled or have to be diverted to other airports if 5G towers are deployed too close to airport runways.  

    But most aviation regulators are content the risks posed by 5G to planes are low, according to Layton. 

    ‘This whole thing is unhelpful for the world’s airport regulators,’ she said. ‘They have blessed this technology years ago, so what does it look like when the FAA all of sudden says “there’s a problem”? It’s really inconvenient and a bit embarrassing.’

    AT&T and Verizon have agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks. 

    In the UK, Ofcom said the country had had 5G deployments and other services in the bands near to radio altimeters for years and there have been no known cases of interference. 

    Similarly, other countries are already using these frequencies for 5G and other wireless services with no reported incidents of interference to aviation equipment. 

    The issue in the US is that it’s about to deploy these services, so there’s concerns of the effects deployment may have.  

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