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As 5G network goes live this week, aircraft operators need to know these latest safety updates

The latest move in the dance between cellular providers and the aviation industry came Tuesday afternoon, as ATandamp;T and Verizon agreed to delay turning on 5G, or fifth-generation, cell service at some towers near key U.S. airports, according to multiple reports.Also on Wednesday, some international airlines began suspending flights to the U.S.On Sunday, The FAA cleared roughly 45% of the commercial fleet in the United States to perform low-visibility landings at airports where the 5G C-band will be active starting Wednesday. Despite these last-minute approvals, flights at some airports will still be affected. With concerns still abundant that 5G signals will interfere with radar altimeters onboard aircraft, groups supporting the aviation industry want a further delay of the rollout. Commercial airline executives ask Biden to stop 5G rolloutIn a letter first reported by Reuters, representatives of 10 airlines asked the Biden administration to intervene in the rollout of 5G technology near major airports on Wednesday. The letter warned of "catastrophic" consequences for both transportation and the economy. "The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable," the letter said. "To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt." In January, ATandamp;T and Verizon agreed to create buffer zones for six months around 50 airports where transmitters are in close proximity. They also agreed to delay deployment until Jan. 19 while the FAA reviewed new data detailing the location and power of wireless transmitters where the service will be launched. These buffer zones may not be enough to prevent flight disruptions, however, aviation industry advocates warn. The letter also calls for a 2-mile buffer zone around airports near 5G towers and expanding the current plan's buffer zones, which currently only reduce the 5G signals for the final 20 seconds of flight. "Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," said the letter signed by executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and others. "This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays." The letter was addressed to the White House, the U.S. Transportation Department, the FCC, and the FAA. In a statement released Sunday, the FAA urged passengers to check with their airlines if impactful weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible, suggesting that the agency is expecting delays across multiple airlines. Commercial aircraft cleared for flight at 5G C-band airportsTwo radio altimeter models installed in a variety of Boeing and Airbus planes were approved by the FAA, reportedly opening up runways at 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by the 5G C-band interference. Aircraft models approved for low-visibility landings at C-band active airports include some Boeing 737, 747, 757, and 767 models, McDonnell Douglas MD-10 and MD-11 planes, and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330, and A350 models. Boeing 787 aircraft were mentioned specifically by the FAA on Friday, requiring operators to take precautions when landing on wet or snowy runways. In a Continued Airworthiness Notification dated Jan. 14, the FAA warned that 5G interference on 787 aircraft could prevent braking systems from transitioning to landing mode, preventing an aircraft from stopping on the runway in wet conditions. The FAA cited anomalies on Boeing 787 aircraft due to the interference that could affect multiple systems on the aircraft, including those that operate the controls used when the aircraft is on a runway. This Airworthiness Notification will affect 1,010 aircraft worldwide and 137 registered in the United States. "As a result, lack of thrust reverser and speedbrake deployment and increased idle thrust may occur; and brakes may be the only means to slow the airplane," the notification states. The FAA did not clear the radio altimeters in the Boeing 787 or 777, both popular in the American Airlines and United Airlines fleets. Regional jets have also yet to be cleared. United Airlines issued its own warning on Monday, saying it faces "significant restrictions on 787s, 777s, 737s and regional aircraft in major cities like Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago." While the FAA said it is expecting to issue more approvals in the coming days, nearly 55% of the commercial fleet is set to be grounded tomorrow when the 5G network deploys. For business aircraft, little has been mentioned. How the 5G service will affect helicopters and business aviationHelicopters and private aircraft also rely on radar altimeters, putting them at risk of 5G interference when it launches. The Helicopter Association International petitioned the FAA to exempt helicopter air ambulance operations from 5G restrictions, which the agency partially agreed to. RELATED: FAA issues exemption for helicopter air ambulances from 5G restrictions Unlike typical aircraft, helicopters have varying flight paths and fly slower, increasing their exposure to cell towers and longer bursts of potential interference. Private aircraft and helicopters also use more airports and takeoff and landing sites than commercial aircraft, including the more than 4,000 heliports near American hospitals.
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