Why 5G roll-outs are disrupting flights to the US

News: Air India and several other airlines have cancelled flights to the US. They are worried that the 5G roll-out there may affect aircraft and passenger safety, a concern raised by Boeing and Airbus in the past.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aircraft makers warned that accurate functioning of radar altimeters in some aircraft may be affected by the 5G radio frequencies.

How 5G installation near airports impacts airplane services?

Airlines take off and land using autopilot systems, which use data from radar altimeters to determine the altitude of the aircraft. Hence, they are a crucial part of flight operations for pilots, particularly while seeking to make low-visibility landings in poor weather conditions.

Altimeters emit radio waves at 4.2-4.3 Gigahertz (GHz) frequency, which could interfere with a 5G band called C-Band, which lies between 3.7-4.4 GHz.

Whereas, not using auto-pilot would lead to more fuel consumption and higher costs for airlines.

What are the steps taken by US regulators?

US regulators left about a 200 MHz buffer between the altimeters’ frequency and the 5G C-Band frequency. However, some airplanes like the Boeing 777 are using some older radio altimeters, which are finding it difficult to function in this buffer. So some US telcos have temporarily deferred the 5G roll-out.

Can this impact India’s 5G roll-out?

India’s 5G auctions are expected to include spectrum bands of 3.3GHz -3.6GHz, which means the C-Band may not be operational, at least in the near future.

Additionally, aircraft equipment is manufactured globally, with certain standards. The FAA tests will likely lead to standards for altimeters and applied internationally. Once a standard is known, it can be implemented in all aircraft.

Source: This post is based on the article “Technology tangle: On 5G services and flight disruptions”, “Why 5G roll-outs are disrupting flights to the US” published in The Hindu and Livemint on 20th Jan 2022.

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