5G wireless – another reason to fear the airplane

News images of long lines at airports with nightmares of COVID-19 testing, delayed flights and exhausted passengers are putting the brakes on vacation travel at the busiest time of year. More than 2,000 flights have been canceled worldwide on Monday as more and more airline staff and crew are calling in sick as the omicron variant spreads.

The Americans had planned to take to the skies in record numbers, according to the American Automobile Association, who estimated that more than 109 million people would travel during the Christmas and New Years holiday season, a 34% increase from 2020.

But it’s not just the pandemic that threatens air travel; another security ghost hovers. The managers of two major aircraft manufacturers – Boeing and Airbus – have warned that further attempts to introduce 5G in early January could threaten flight safety.

It makes my head spin: “5G interference could affect the ability of planes to operate safely,” wrote Boeing and Airbus Americas bosses Dave Calhoun and Jeffrey Knittel in a recent joint letter to the United States. US Secretary of Transportation. Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg Let’s be honest: 2021 wasn’t so bad 10 Democrats who could run in 2024 if Biden doesn’t do Boeing, Airbus says rollout of new 5G wireless services could hurt aviation safety, urges delay deployment PLUS.

The letter cited research from a business group, Airlines for America, which found that while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 5G rules had been in effect two years ago, approximately 345,000 passenger flights and 5,400 cargo flights have reportedly suffered delays, diversions or cancellations. .

What sparked this recent concern from airlines was an FAA notification regarding the potentially dangerous use of equipment, known as a radio altimeter, which will help pilots land in low visibility and inclement weather. from January 5 to more than 40 of the country’s busiest airports if the planned activation of 5G continues as planned. (Radar altimeters differ from standard altimeters, which rely on air pressure readings and do not use radio signals to measure altitude.)

The regulatory agency said that possible interference with aircraft radio altimeters from future C-band cell site transmitters would require it to prohibit pilots from relying on these instruments to track their altitude above the ground at proximity to specific airports. This means that in bad weather you may need to land somewhere other than your destination. It sounds rather worrying.

As is often the case in Washington, DC, today there is a dispute over this issue between and among government agencies and private industry. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which plays a major role in radio frequencies (5G signals will travel on C-band radio frequencies), is apparently not worried about interference with the aircraft radio altimeter according to its own research. .

Once again, conflicting news and competing narratives leave consumers in awe. On the private side, AT&T and Verizon have a major interest in this fight as suppliers to 5G operators. The companies have offered to reduce or cap the power of their 5G services until this impasse is resolved.

The union representing airline pilots has also weighed to emphasize the importance of getting it right:

“The FAA and FCC are at a dead end on how to solve this problem, and it is a big problem for passengers, shippers and the American economy,” wrote Captain Joseph DePete, Air President. Line Pilots Association International. “Several countries around the world are deploying the 5G C-band in a way that presents much less risk of interference with radar altimeters. The reasons include other countries using reduced power level limits or increasing the frequency spectrum spacing between 5G and radar altimeters. “

Fortunately, trade associations representing all industries have promised work together on a solution.

In a world where the speed of the Internet determines much of global commerce and innovation, America must remain dominant in the technological arena. According to Ookla, which measures mobile and broadband network speeds, the United States currently has the highest 5G availability at 49.2%, followed by the Netherlands, South Korea, Kuwait and Qatar.

But although the United States ranked first in availability, their actual download speeds were among the worst of the first countries to adopt 5G. Ookla placed median 5G download speeds at 93.73 Mbps in the US, well below the median of 184.2 Mbps in the UK and still well below South Korea, which leads the field at 492.48.

As a new year approaches, we want to feel grounded in security while being able to fly around the world to see countries and friends. We envision a day when driverless cars and remote-controlled hospital staff will keep us healthy and free to roam. But in the meantime, our government agencies need to get their signals and point us in the right direction so that we can all take off safely.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

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