Everything we know about the 5G airline snafu

21st January, 2022.      //   Technology  // 
International airlines suspend some US flights over 5G uncertainty

International airlines suspend some US flights over 5G uncertainty

The endeavor to improve mobile service in the United States has proven a disaster. New 5G antennas could interfere with a critical type of aircraft altimeter used to land flights in severe weather, according to the aviation sector and transportation officials. There’s nothing to be worried about, according to telecom authorities and wireless providers.
The authorities have been at a standstill for some weeks. As regulators, telecom firms, and airlines blew beyond a deadline to reach a deal, the whole affair came to a head last week, with some large overseas airlines canceling some US flights. Again, AT&T and Verizon are delaying the installation of their new 5G antennae near select airports. Regulators are still trying to come up with a solution. Also, a lot is yet unknown.
Sir Tim Clark, the President of Emirates, told the press on Wednesday that the airline was not aware of some of the potential 5G rollout issues until yesterday morning, calling the situation “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” he has seen in his aviation career, calling the situation “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” he has seen.
Here’s all we know about the snafu, as well as everything we don’t know.

Exactly what is the problem?
Over the last few years, telecom companies have put out 5G networks in a variety of areas around the United States, bringing the next generation of cellular phone data speeds to the masses. Verizon and AT&T, on the other hand, launched their C-band 5G networks on Wednesday, a crucial set of radio frequencies that will revolutionize the internet as we know it.

Unfortunately, the C-Range is close to the frequency band utilized by radar altimeters, which inform pilots how high their plane is above the ground and are critical for landing flights in low-light conditions.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission sold the C-band spectrum to US cellphone providers for $81 billion.
Concerns that the C-band technology could interfere with the radar altimeters that pilots use to land in low-visibility conditions have been raised by airlines, who have warned of serious ramifications for transportation and the economy as a whole. (After the deployment, airlines predicted that 1,000 flights would be disrupted each day.)

On Tuesday, Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and British Airways all announced changes to some flights, citing the issue. Some have added back flights or switched aircraft. International carriers seemed to be caught off guard and had to act quickly because of the length of these long-haul flights.

Domestic airlines have also stated that they are keeping an eye on the situation.
“Thousands of aircraft are taking off and arriving safely at airports around the country as a result of the agreements the White House achieved with AT&T and Verizon yesterday [to delay 5G deployment at key airports],” stated Airlines for America in a statement released Wednesday. According to the FAA, more planes have been allowed to fly safely near 5G towers, but “flights at some airports may still be disrupted.”

“Flights at some airports may still be affected even with these clearances,” the FAA stated. In order to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems, the FAA continues to work with manufacturers and passengers should check their airlines for the most up-to-date flight itineraries.” On Wednesday, United Airlines said it expected “minimal inconveniences,” but that it was “pleased that the Biden Administration achieved an agreement with AT&T and Verizon to avoid widespread cancellations.”

Was anything done about it? What is going on?
Despite promises from federal telecom authorities and cellular carriers, transportation officials had already been concerned that the version of 5G that was set to be switched on could interfere with some airplane instrumentation, and many aviation industry groups echoed those fears. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned Boeing and Airbus in a December letter that the 5G deployment could “adversely affect the ability of airplanes to safely operate” because it will cause interference.

In December, the FAA issued an urgent order forbidding pilots from using potentially affected altimeters around airports where low-visibility conditions would otherwise require them. That new rule could keep planes from getting to some airports in certain circumstances, because pilots would be unable to land using instruments alone, and it affects more than 6,800 US airplanes and dozens of aircraft manufacturers.

The aviation industry also made a desperate last push to get wireless carriers to further delay the 5G roll out, which had already been delayed. It was initially slated for Dec. 5, 2021.
But the issue was never fully resolved. That’s how we got to this week’s snafu, with airlines scrambling to rebook or cancel flights. Then, AT&T — which owns CNN parent company WarnerMedia — and Verizon made an 11th-hour pledge to delay the 5G deployment around some airports.
A White House official told the press on Tuesday that the administration is talking with the FAA, FCC, wireless carriers, airlines and aircraft equipment manufacturers to find a solution that still allows the 5G rollout without sacrificing the safety of flights.
But Faye Malarkey Black — the head of the Regional Airline Association, which represents airlines that largely service rural America — has taken to Twitter to air complaints that the RAA hasn’t been involved in any of the discussions. She also posted that “0% of the regional airline fleet has been cleared to perform low visibility landings at #5G impacted airports if/when weather drops below minimums. Today’s fair weather is saving rural America from severe air service disruption.”
The FAA responded only that it is “reviewing testing data for altimeters used in regional jets.”
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, President Joe Biden had this to say to reporters: “The issue of whether or not we’re dealing with 5G or not, we don’t deal with 5G. The fact is that you had two enterprises — two private enterprises…They have government regulation visibly. And so what I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize them over the years,” he said, apparently referring to the altimeters. Faye Malarkey Black, however, struck a different tone in an interview with the press. She said that what she has found “perplexing was all these sort of victory dances about this deal — that this was a great deal and crisis averted. Crisis has not been averted. Crisis has been averted for urban centers.”

Why is this happening in the United States and not elsewhere?
In sharp contrast to the commotion in the United States, Europe has rolled out 5G without any impact on aviation. Some critical technical details make the difference. In the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz frequency range, European wireless carriers have launched new 5G services. A spectrum of radio waves between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz, which is a quicker range and closer to the spectrum utilized by radar altimeters, is being used in the United States to roll out 5G service in the United States.

And, according to the FAA, that’s too close for comfort.
Other countries are also using other mitigating tactics to prevent interference, such as restricting the placement of 5G antennas near airfields and requiring them to be tilted downward to limit potential interference with aircraft. As for how to remedy the United States’ woes, Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, weighed in on the press: “The fix basically is working out where the bandwidth is, the amount of power used, the tilt of the antennas, the placement of the antennas,” he said. “There are mitigations that can be put in place, it’s just going to take time to do it. The fix can be almost immediate — tower by tower.”

Who’s to blame?
That’s not entirely clear.
AT&T and Verizon pinned much of the blame on the Federal Aviation Administration in statements on Tuesday.
“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” AT&T spokesperson Megan Ketterer said in a statement. Verizon said in a separate statement that “the FAA and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.” Emirates president Sir Tim Clark did not mince words about what he sees as the issue, placing blame on the structure of the US system, saying “this is one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” situations that he’s seen in his aviation career. He added that the “risks and dangers” should have already been evaluated.
Which airports are affected?
We don’t know. When the FAA issued its order in December, it included a list of airports that would need to have buffer zones for 5G. But it’s not clear if AT&T and Verizon delayed the 5G deployment at all or some of those locations. Nor is it clear how long they plan to delay deployment or if changes will ultimately need to be made to those antennas before than can be switched on.

What more do we haven’t heard?
We still don’t know what’s causing all of these talks to come to a halt. The Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, wireless carriers, and industry associations are among the numerous voices at the table, and the source of their current impasse isn’t totally evident. We have no idea who is requesting what. We don’t know if extra testing will be required. We don’t know when all of this will be settled, which is arguably the most frightening aspect.

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