The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will issue a Special Airworthiness Bulletin and an Airworthiness Directive over concerns about 5G wireless networks interfering with cockpit safety systems, reports The Wall Street Journal. The 5G wireless service is expected to go live as early as December 5 of this year.
5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, offering better call connections and faster speeds, according to major carriers like ATandamp;T, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. While this sounds like a great benefit to the more than 290 million smartphone users in the United States, the interference with cockpit systems that utilize radar altimeters could wreak havoc on the safety of aircraft.
These cockpit systems help pilots navigate in poor weather and avoid midair collisions. Commercial pilots that are unable to use these features will not be able to fly, leading to flight cancellations and delays in large metropolitan cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Houston where these towers are located.
The FAA noted that its actions are not directed at the usage of cellphones on the 5G network.
Reuters quoted a letter from the FAA Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims that said the agency shares "the deep concern about the potential impact to aviation safety resulting from interference to radar altimeter performance from 5G network operations in the C band."
According to the Journal, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates commercial use of airwaves, is countering the FAA's concerns, saying that there hasn't been enough evidence provided to support these claims that 5G will interfere with aircraft systems.
While the FAA is raising public concerns a month before the rollout of 5G, it has been involved in a long-running dispute between the aviation and telecom industries and their regulators.
Staff of the FCC and FAA have been speaking weekly since August, with The White House mediating discussions, reported the Journal. The FCC is looking for additional data such as the specific altimeters that could be affected by 5G interference. The FAA is seeking data about 5G tower locations, power, and angles to determine interference with "glide paths" on final approach.
Gogo, a broadband connectivity service, is currently building the first nationwide 5G network exclusively for business aviation. The FAA is voicing its concern for interference with aircraft altimeters that operate in the 4.0 GHz - 4.2 GHz range caused by the carriers' 5G use of C-Band spectrum in the 3.7 - 3.98 GHz range.
"Gogo has never used the frequencies under discussion, nor do we plan to use those frequencies for our 5G network," said Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation. For its 5G network, Gogo will use 4 MHz of spectrum it owns in the 800 MHz band and additional unlicensed spectrum in the 2.423 GHz - 2.475 GHz range, giving significant space from the radio altimeter operating range.