Serious aviation safety concerns about 5G wireless networks scheduled to go live in early December have prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue a serious warning to airlines, Fox Business reported.

The FFA, an aviation safety regulatory agency, plans to warn pilots and airlines through a special bulletin it is preparing about the potential interference of the 5G system on the ground on certain automated functions implemented in the cockpit system, which pilots use to prevent accidents, whether due to bad weather, in-flight collisions, etc. 

According to the regulatory agency, if commercial pilots cannot use these safety features, airlines will be forced to “drastically reduce aviation operational capacity,” as there would be flight cancellations, delays, and diversions in more than 40 U.S. metropolitan areas where the towers are located.

The FAA’s Bradley Mims said in a letter dated Oct. 6 that the agency shares “the deep concern about the potential impact to aviation safety resulting from interference to radar altimeter performance from 5G network operations in the C band.”

Technical experts in the U.S. aviation industry are concerned that some frequencies used for 5G service (pointedly the C-band of radio frequencies between 3.7 and 4.2 gigahertz) will interfere with radar altimeters, which measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground.

Aviation safety regulators have been in a long-running dispute with telecommunications regulators over the issue, with the latter rejecting the safety concerns raised. 

Officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency that regulates the commercial use of radio waves, and the telecommunications industry argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that the 5G network will interfere with aviation.

An FCC spokeswoman said the telecom regulator remains committed to ensuring aviation safety “while moving forward with the deployment of new technologies that support American business and consumer needs.”

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, a wireless technology trade group that nucleates AT&T Inc, Verizon, and T-Mobile U.S. Inc, said 5G networks could use C-band spectrum, are secure, and are already being used in 40 countries.

“Any delay in activating this spectrum puts U.S. competitiveness at risk and jeopardizes our ability to ensure global 5G leadership,” it said in a statement.

But for the FFA, the potential interference is a genuine concern for flight safety and airline economics. 

Regarding a longer-term solution, the aviation industry posits that retrofitting some altimeters with “out-of-band filters” might be possible, but it would take years, and “many thousands of civil aircraft are likely to be impacted.”

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