5G Update for airlines

January 19, 2022


New technology may provide faster, better cell phone service – but has already disrupted air travel.
Flights cancelled as new 5G technology expands.
What's Happening. Why It Matters.

New 5G Technology

What Is It? Updated 5G wireless technology – including faster wifi, better service.

Telecom companies have already deployed 5G in the United States, but this week they are deploying a broader expansion.

In a late agreement, the current expansion will not include certain towers within two miles of specific airports because of a lingering question about flight safety.

"The underlying issue here is that radio signals cannot be perfectly confined to their assigned frequency band …"

Northwestern Univ. electrical engineering prof. Randall Berry. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is concerned about how new 5G towers near airports *may* interfere with navigational equipment on certain planes – esp. impacting a pilot’s ability to land those planes in specific conditions (low visibility): “… we rely on data to mitigate risk, and never assume that a piece of equipment or a given flight scenario is safe until this can be demonstrated.” (FAA)

"We've requested their data. They refused to give it."

President of the Air Line Pilots Association, Joe DePete. The CEOs of major airlines have appealed to the FAA to create 5G buffer zones around airports. Despite telecom companies delaying deployment of the new 5G within two miles of certain airports, some airlines still canceled flights Wednesday as a precaution. The FAA says, “If there’s the possibility of a risk to the flying public, we are obligated to restrict the relevant flight activity until we can prove it is safe.” TBD what happens next.

"We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner."

AT&T says the FAA and airlines have had years to plan for this new technology. Conversely, the FAA/Pilots Association say countries that have more widespread 5G use DO employ mitigation efforts near airports (such as tilting antennas downward).

The FAA reports more than 60% of aircraft are already capable of landing at airports where 5G is deployed. President Biden issued a written statement on this topic, saying the White House is “engaging non-stop with the wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist.” More as this develops.

5G and Aviation Safety (Federal Aviation Administration)

FAA Statements on 5G

Statement by President Biden on 5G Agreement

AT&T and Verizon agree to two-week delay in rollout of new 5G service due to concerns over airline safety (CBS News)

Airline industry cheers delay of new 5G band rollout

Airlines cancel some flights after reduced 5G rollout in US (Associated Press)

by Jenna Lee,