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5G and aviation: Why are US airlines warning about aviation crisis after deployment of 5G services?

Towards early 2021, the US had auctioned mid-range 5G bandwidth for about $80 billion dollars to mobile companies.

The bandwidth that was auctioned was in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz range on the spectrum called C band. (Representative image)

5G telecoms and airline safety: With the deployment of new 5G services by AT&T and Verizon telecom providers in the US, many major passenger and cargo airlines in the country have said that there could be a “catastrophic” aviation crisis. According to a report by global news agency Reuters, airline heads have said that the new C band 5G services, that are slated to begin on Wednesday, could lead to a number of aircrafts being rendered unusable. This would mean that the US flights could see chaos and potentially, thousands of passengers could be stranded overseas.

Towards early 2021, the US had auctioned mid-range 5G bandwidth for about $80 billion dollars to mobile companies. The bandwidth that was auctioned was in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz range on the spectrum called C band. But what is the issue? Well, according to the report, the US Federal Aviation Administration or the FAA had warned that aviation instruments like altimetres (used for measuring the height at which the plane is flying relative to the ground, for facilitating automated landings and for detecting wind shear) could be interfered with due to the 5G technology. Altimetres operate at a frequency in the range of 4.2 to 4.4 GHz, and the frequencies that have been auctioned for 5G is very close to this range, which had led to concerns being raised.

Last month, Scott Kirby, who is the CEO of United Airlines, also said that FAA 5G directives would prevent the use of radio altimetres at a whopping 40 of the biggest airports in the country, and airlines have said that these directives could result in the disruption of 4% of the daily flights in the US.

If this issue is left unresolved, according to Kirby, this would mean that at some of the major airports in the country, only visual approaches would be possible in the event of bad weather, heavy smog and cloud cover.

Since higher frequency in a spectrum means faster service, telecom operators want higher frequencies to be able to get full 5G value. While some of the C band spectrum that has been auctioned has been used for satellite radio, it being used for 5G would mean that the spectrum would witness a lot more traffic.

Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T have said that they have deployed 5G services using C band in around 40 other countries, where no aviation interference issue has arisen, and have also agreed to buffer zones like those used in France, at about 50 airports in the US for a period of six months to reduce risks of interference.

In Europe and South Korea, the frequency being used for 5G services is further away from the altimetres’ frequency than in the US, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said in December last year that this issue was specific to the US, with Europe not having witnessed any unsafe interference till then due to this issue.

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