FAA: 5G networks could delay, ground, divert airplanes, and endanger lives

The front-view of a plane in flight

Technology being used in the next generation of wireless communication could disrupt the aviation industry; airlines have claimed. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims the rapid 5G network expansion could delay, ground, or perhaps mandate diversion of airplanes. In a worst-case scenario, 5G networks could even endanger the lives of pilots and passengers.

A detailed bulletin the FAA issued in November this year, outlines the multiple concerns about the radio waves or frequencies that are commonly used for 5G services. The FAA has argued that 5G airwaves have a detrimental impact on aircraft instrumentation.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which is a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the United States, has refuted the claims of the FAA. The CTIA has claimed that FAA analyses are “flawed”. It added that nearly 40 other countries are already using the airwaves or frequencies for 5G expansion without any danger to airplanes. While dismissing the claims of the FAA, CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said:

“In some of these countries, 5G signals operate in spectrum adjacent to aviation equipment. U.S. airlines fly in and out of these countries every day. If interference were possible, we would have seen it long before now.”

At the core of the issue is an instrument called “radio altimeter”. This piece of technology measures a plane’s height above the ground. The FAA insists that the 5G airwaves can interfere with the radio altimeter. In the worst of cases, some pilots could be unable to use this technology, claims the FAA.

Incidentally, an airplane does have multiple other fallback technologies that offer a pilot a clear idea about the altitude, speed, orientation, and other critical parameters. Still, some of the cellular service providers (in other parts of the world) that have migrated their customers to 5G, have slightly turned down the power levels and changed the orientation of the 5G antennae. These appear to be the common steps taken to mitigate the claimed detrimental impact of 5G frequencies on the radio altimeter installed in airplanes. It is not clear how the FAA and the CTIA will resolve this stalemate.

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