Flipping the switch on speedy 5G networks close to airports could ground flights across the United States, chief executives of major US passenger and cargo carriers have warned. The concern seems to stem from the new C-Band 5G service, which is widely-expected to render aircrafts unusable and “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and cause “chaos” for flights across the United States. The level of concern has forced airlines to cancel or redirect flights due to safety concerns.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that interference from 5G, which is the successor to 4G and offers download speeds that are faster than most UK home broadband connections, could impact sensitive aeroplane instruments, like altimeters, and significantly hamper low-visibility operations. In an open letter, spotted by Reuters, the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines amongst others have warned that: “Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded. 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.”
British Airways, Emirates and Air India have cancelled or changed US-bound flights due to the concerns. In a statement about the decision, a spokesperson for British Airways said: “Safety is always our priority and although we had to cancel a handful of services, we’ve done everything we can to minimise inconvenience for our customers. We’ve changed the aircraft operating some of our flights and rebooked those on cancelled services on to alternatives.”
In response to the warnings, AT&T and Verizon – the two mobile networks pushing ahead with 5G plans across the United States, have paused plans to roll out the next-generation network close to core airports. C-Band was planned to roll out nationwide as it offers a number of improvements over previous frequencies. Dubbed ‘Goldilocks frequency’, the sweet spot – a radio frequency band between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz – offers a brilliant balance between blink-and-you’ll-miss-it download speeds and wide coverage.
The C-Band spectrum was previously reserved for satellite television providers. But in March 2020, US regulators changed the rules to reallocate much of the C-Band spectrum to mobile networks to launch superfast 5G speeds with better coverage across the United States. However, it’s specifically the C-Band 5G service that could cause havoc with altimeters inside commercial and cargo aeroplanes.
Thankfully, the rollout of 5G in the UK will have no impact on airports due to the different frequencies used by British mobile networks and counterparts in the United States. Specifically, the controversial C-Band service is not used for speedy 5G in the UK.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees and regulates all sides of civil aviation in the UK, said: “There have been no reported incidents of aircraft systems being affected by 5G transmissions in UK airspace. We are working with Ofcom and the Ministry of Defence to make sure that the deployment of 5G in the UK does not cause any technical problems for aircraft and are keeping our position under constant review. Also, as UK aircraft fly throughout the world we have issued safety advice to airlines on the 5G status in other countries, including the USA.”