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Aviation Industry Emerges As Unexpected Obstacle In Path of 5G Rollout

A continuing debate between government agencies and industry groups over 5G technology’s potential impact on airline safety is entering a new stage. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning to warn pilots and airlines that a new 5G technology may interfere with certain automated features on aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday (Oct. 29). 

This is the latest move in a clash between the FAA and the aviation industry on the one side and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates commercial use of the airwaves, and telecom groups, on the other. The agencies have been discussing the issue for months. 

At stake is the use of certain spectrum designated for use by 5G, which is one of the enabling technologies powering new connected economy use cases, PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster said in a recent opinion piece. 

Read more: The Connected Economy Takes Off

In its new move, the FAA has been drafting a special bulletin and accompanying mandates on the matter, the report said, citing current and former government and aviation industry officials who had been briefed on the matter. 

The aviation industry has been concerned about plans to use C-band spectrum for more than a year, Reuters said Friday. The news agency reported Friday that two officials confirmed the Wall Street Journal report, saying the FAA will soon issue a bulletin and a directive about the issue. 

Deep Concern About the Potential Impact 

The FAA’s warning is expected to focus on wireless towers transmitting the new 5G signals that are scheduled to begin in early December, and not consumers’ cell phones, the Wall Street Journal reported. The agency says the signals from those towers could affect the cockpit systems that help planes land in poor weather, prevent crashes and avoid midair collisions. 

In an Oct. 6 letter obtained by Reuters, FAA Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims said the agency shares the airline industry’s “deep concern about the potential impact to aviation safety resulting from interference to radar altimeter performance from 5G network operations in the C band.” 

Similarly, a letter signed by 21 aviation organizations in July said, “The aviation industry has analyzed the 5G service rules and firmly believes that these new systems will create a public safety hazard. (…) Simply, we will not be able to maintain the current level of public safety without additional support from the Biden-Harris administration and the implementation of short-term mitigations by the cellular industry.” This letter was sent to the heads of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce. 

Safely Used In About 40 Countries 

The FCC, on the other hand, says the available evidence does not support that conclusion, the Wall Street Journal reported. The agency reviewed 5G networks’ potential impact on aviation before setting rules for the spectrum. 

The CTIA, an association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, maintains a website devoted to 5G and airline safety and says, “5G networks using a set of radio waves called ‘C-band spectrum’ operate safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation equipment.” It reports that about 40 countries are safely using C-band spectrum for 5G today, with no evidence of interference. 

Looking ahead, an FAA spokesman quoted by the Wall Street Journal said the agency was working with other government officials “so that aviation and the newest generation of 5G cellular technology can safely coexist.” 

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