[Update, Jan. 4]: AT&T and Verizon on Monday night agreed to postpone Wednesday’s planned C-band 5G rollout for two weeks after a request from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who cited safety concerns raised by the airline industry, according to The Associated Press. AT&T also reiterated its promise to further reduce power of the networks around airports for six months, which will allow time to study potential aircraft system interference.
Wireless giants AT&T and Verizon are set to deploy new
5G wireless services in the United States on Jan. 5 even as the airline
industry implores the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to delay the service
initiation amid concerns over interference with aircraft radar instruments that
could precipitate flight delays and cancellations.
Airline industry group Airlines for America submitted to the
FCC on Dec. 30 an emergency petition to delay 5G service initiation around 135 U.S.
airport locations. The petition cited the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's
December airworthiness directives based on a report from radio standards nonprofit
group RTCA that found radio (also known as radar) altimeters "cannot be
relied upon to perform their intended function if they experience interference
from wireless broadband operations in the 5G C-band."
The likelihood and severity of radio frequency interference
increases for operations at lower altitudes, according to the group, and radio
altimeters as a result could become inoperable or present misleading
information, posing risk for "all types of civil aircraft."
The directive "requires revising the limitations
section of the existing airplane/aircraft flight manual to incorporate [a] limitation
prohibiting certain operations requiring radio altimeter data when in the
presence of 5G C-band interference." The A4A petition states those operations
are required to safely land aircraft.
The emergency petition comes even after cellular trade
industry group CTIA, the Aerospace Industries Association and Airlines for
America issued a joint statement on Dec. 22 saying they were "pleased that
after productive discussions we will be working together to share the available
data from all parties to identify the specific areas of concern for aviation.
The best technical experts from across both industries will be working
collectively to identify a path forward, in coordination with the FAA and
[Federal Communications Commission]. Our belief is that by working
collaboratively in good faith on a data-driven solution, we can achieve our
shared goal of deploying 5G while preserving aviation safety."
The new petition challenges the FCC to produce a
"reasoned analysis of why it has rejected the evidence submitted by the aviation
interests," which it has not done, despite numerous communications to the agency
regarding the issue, according to petitioners.
Wireless carriers postponed service initiation from Dec. 5,
2021 to Jan. 5, 2022 and adopted precautions to mitigate interference with aircraft.
The aviation industry believes they are insufficient.
The CEOs of Boeing and Airbus Americas sent a joint letter
to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Dec. 20 requesting a delay
and warning that the services could affect aviation safety, Reuters
reported. They cited an A4A study that estimated 345,000 passenger flights
and 5,400 cargo flights would have faced delays or cancellation in 2019 if the planned
5G wireless services had been active at that time.
Major U.S. carriers also have warned that 5G wireless
services could disrupt thousands of daily flights and cost air passengers $1.6
billion annually in delays, with United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby saying it
could "delay, divert or cancel about 4 percent of daily flights," according
to another Reuters report.
The cellular services industry rejected the potential for this
disruption, citing 5G rollouts in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand
and other countries that already use the C-Band and transmit in the same range
the U.S. cellular industry will use.
“The aviation industry’s fearmongering relies on completely
discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact,” CTIA told FlightGlobal
in a Dec. 15 statement. "We will launch this service in January with the
most-extensive set of protective measures in the world.”