From the 1st of July, telecom companies can operate 5G antennas near many U.S. airports, but the country’s airlines still have work to do.
A year and a half ago, the airline and the telecom industries narrowly avoided a potentially dangerous standoff. The 5G frequencies that U.S. telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T wanted to use, were a bit too close to those used by aircraft radio altimeters.
In many other countries 5G signals are a bit further away from the frequencies the airlines need. Either way, the FAA has agreed that the aviation industry must ensure that aircraft equipment becomes more resilient to interference from these 5G signals.
The deadline to retrofit aircraft with the necessary equipment is July 1st, 2023. Until the deadline, telecom companies had agreed to stay further away from radio altimeter frequencies AND to reduce the power levels of their equipment.
What the FAA found last year was that a lot of aircraft already have radio altimeters that are OK as they are. But the airlines have plenty of aircraft that need new equipment to ensure no 5G interference. And this includes both U.S.-registered aircraft and foreign ones that fly into the country.
5G Launch: Airlines Not Adjusting Their Schedules?
As of last week, 80% of airliners with U.S. registrations had the new or updated radio altimeters that they need. U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to Airlines for America (A4A) to remind airlines of the implications of 5G C-Band interference for their aircraft:
“…we continue to see a significant number of aircraft still awaiting retrofit, including many operated by foreign air carriers. This means on bad-weather, low-visibility days in particular, there could be increased delays and cancellations.”
FAA has mandated that airlines with aircraft that aren’t ready for 5G interference need to use new procedures, especially in low-visibility conditions. Obviously, these procedures are aircraft-specific, especially since many newer aircraft use their radio altimeters in more roles.
For example, some aircraft systems use the radio altimeter as a backup or verification to their weight-on-wheel sensors. This could affect the operation of other systems, like spoilers that would normally deploy after touchdown.
Again, there are procedures and limitations for aircraft that don’t have the right systems. But what the U.S. Transport Secretary seems to suggest is that the airlines are NOT reducing their flight schedules, to account for possible delays involving aircraft without the new equipment.
The problem, for all airlines, is that sourcing radio altimeters resistant to 5G C-Band interference suffers from the same supply-chain issues that the industry has been suffering since the pandemic.