As the FAA and the aviation industry have consistently warned, the new 5G service has the potential to interfere with radio altimeters, which are crucial aircraft avionics that measure the distance between an aircraft and the ground. The radio altimeter also provides input to other critical safety, flight control and alerting aircraft systems.
Safety is and always will be the top priority of U.S. airlines, and we will fully comply with directives issued by our federal regulator, the FAA.
It is well documented that the FAA and the aviation industry have been consistently warning the FCC about the potential for interference with aircraft radio altimeters since 2018. In May of that year, Airlines for America filed comments raising those concerns in response to an FCC public notice about the potential use of the frequencies. Please visit a timeline here.
We fully support 5G – but it needs to be deployed in a manner that allows 5G and aviation to coexist safely.
Comparisons of international examples versus U.S. 5G deployment are apples-to-oranges comparisons. Other countries heeded aviation concerns and addressed them through mitigations. The allocated frequencies for 5G internationally are generally farther away from the radio frequency band used by radio altimeters. In addition, the permitted power levels are often significantly lower than those authorized in the U.S. Many other countries have also effectively utilized a combination of exclusion zones around airports, lower power levels and directional changes to antennas to mitigate interference. Examples:
The U.S. telecom providers were poised to activate new 5G services at higher power levels and on more critical radio frequencies than anywhere in the world without the necessary safety mitigations near airports.
The telecommunications companies agreed on January 18, 2022 to deploy 5G on January 19, 2022 except around key airports and to continue working with the federal government on safe 5G deployment at those locations. These agreements averted widespread disruption to the National Airspace System, the traveling and shipping public, the global supply chain and the U.S. economy. The President has said that the Administration will continue to work with all stakeholders “to close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports.”
The aviation industry is continuing to work with the FAA to limit flight disruptions and further assess how radio altimeters perform in the 5G environment. According to the FAA, “Disruption risk will gradually decrease as more altimeters are tested and either deemed safe, retrofitted or replaced.”
If the new 5G deployment near airports had gone forward without mitigations, it could have disrupted as many as 345,000 passenger flights and 5,400 cargo flights per year with delays, diversions and cancellations. That would have impacted more than 32 million travelers as well as people who depend on air cargo for shipping.
A January 17, 2022 letter signed by all A4A member CEOs warned, “The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable.” The letter went on to say that passenger and cargo carriers would struggle to get people, shipments, planes and crews where they need to be if 5G were deployed near airports, adding that the nation’s commerce would grind to a halt.