What’s Next After FAA Keeps 5G Altimeter Upgrade Deadline?

What’s Next After FAA Keeps 5G Altimeter Upgrade Deadline?

DALLAS – The United States keeps the deadline for airlines to retrofit aircraft with new sensors to address potential 5G interference, despite worries that the deadline could lead to travel disruptions.

On Tuesday, the US Transport Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, confirmed that airlines were informed that the July 1 deadline for refitting planes with new sensors to mitigate potential 5G interference would not be postponed, despite concerns from airlines regarding potential travel disruptions.

The airlines have cautioned that they may not be able to meet the deadline and that some planes may need to be grounded. It is worth noting that telecom companies have previously delayed their 5G rollout to give airlines more time to make adjustments.

American Airlines at LAX. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways

IATA and FAA over 5G Altimeter Upgrade

The C-Band spectrum used for 5G in the US has been a concern for aviation companies and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who worry that it could interfere with aircraft altimeters that measure a plane’s height above the ground.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the decision to maintain the deadline increases the probability of travel disruptions during the peak northern summer season. The group claimed that supply chain problems made it improbable that all planes would be retrofitted by the July 1 deadline and that the cost of retrofitting would be around US$638m.

Nick Careen from the IATA stated that airlines were not responsible for the situation and that they had been subjected to poor government planning and coordination.

Another development on Tuesday was the FAA proposing new rules for almost 20,000 Boeing aircraft worldwide due to potential 5G interference. The proposed regulations will require updated flight manuals, prohibit certain landings, and introduce new landing and approach procedures to address potential 5G interference.

Boeing is working with suppliers, regulators, airlines, and telecom companies to ensure long-term stability and minimize operational restrictions where feasible, according to a representative for the company who spoke with Reuters.

This map shows the percentage of the U.S. commercial fleet and aircraft types that can land at U.S. airports with low-visibility approaches or a high-volume of aircraft with systems that could be adversely affected by 5G. Green – greater than 90% of aircraft models available to land. Yellow – greater than 50%—89% of aircraft models available to land. Source: IATA —October 2022

Aircraft Radar Altimeters and 5G Radio Frequencies

The Radar Altimeter, also known as a Radio Altimeter or a low-range radar, is a critical instrument that enables and enhances several different safety and navigation functions in civil, commercial, and military aircraft by determining and showing height above ground level. It provides situational awareness to the crew during different phases of flight and instrument approaches.

The Radar Altimeter operates in an Aeronautical Radio Navigation Service (ARNS) spectrum allocation, in the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz band, and its information forms a part of the Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), wind shear detection system, flight control system, autoland systems (including autothrottle and automated landing flare and roll out), Automatic Flight Guidance and Control System (AFGCS), as well as the Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitoring (ECAM) system.

A study conducted by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) in 2020 found that both 5G base stations and user equipment on board an aircraft operating in the 3.7–4.2 GHz frequency band (currently deployed in the USA) presented a risk of harmful interference to Radar Altimeters (which operate in the 4.2–4.4 GHz range) across all aircraft types with far-reaching safety consequences and impacts to aviation operation.

Radar Altimeter interference from 5G radio signals can cause the loss of radar altitude information or, worse, incorrect radar altitude information being generated unknowingly.

Feature Image: Qatar Airways

Aircraft maintenance engineering graduate and Aviation enthusiast with more than four years of experience in running a successful aviation startup.

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