The FAA has warned aircraft operators, pilots and manufacturers that new-generation 5G cellular technology could potentially interfere with sensitive aircraft electronics and degrade aircraft safety systems.
“Operators should be prepared for the possibility that interference from 5G transmitters and other technology could cause certain safety equipment to malfunction, requiring them to take mitigating action that could affect flight operations,” the FAA said.
The Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin, issued by the FAA on Nov. 2, relates to the planned Dec. 5 deployment of 5G wireless broadband networks in a higher frequency range, known as the C-Band spectrum, than had previously been allowed.
The deployment, to be undertaken by select providers that have been licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, will begin in 46 markets.
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The new frequency range is closer than the range occupied by current-generation broadband technology to the frequencies that aircraft operators use for their radio altimeters, which measure a plane’s distance from the ground when flying at altitudes of approximately 2,500 feet and below.
The FAA bulletin urges aviation industry stakeholders to be aware of potential degradation of equipment that depends on radio altimeters, especially during low-altitude operations.
The bulletin also notes that globally there have yet to be proven reports of harmful interference on altimeters due to wireless broadband operations. Still, some countries have introduced temporary proximity and power restrictions on broadband networks operating within the C-Band spectrum.
The FAA is recommending that airline pilots remind passengers that all portable electronic devices equipped with 5G should be turned off or switched to airplane mode during the flight. The FAA is also urging aircraft operators to immediately report any interference.
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In addition, equipment manufacturers should continue testing to determine the susceptibility of radio altimeters to 5G interference.
Airlines and the broader aviation industry began voicing concerns about the FCC’s plan to open up the higher frequencies to broadband providers well before the FCC auctioned off the C-Band frequencies this past February.
In a statement Wednesday, the Air Lines Pilot Association (ALPA) union said the FAA’s guidance is a step in right direction.
“However, once transmissions begin, the FAA may have to impose additional restrictions on flight operations to maintain safety due to inadequate requirements on 5G that limit interference with radio altimeters,” ALPA said.
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