US airlines warn of security risks from 5G

Status: 01/18/2022 11:08 a.m

US airlines have warned of a crisis in the industry before the planned introduction of the new 5G mobile communications standard in the USA tomorrow. The background is possible interference between the technical systems of the aircraft and 5G transmitters.

The acceleration of mobile communications traffic due to the new 5G standard could severely slow down air traffic. Several US airlines formulated this fear in a letter published shortly before the launch of 5G in the US, which is planned for tomorrow.

In the letter, the airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, describe potential dramatic consequences of 5G for their operations. They went as far as a “catastrophic” crisis in the airline industry, according to industry officials. The flight divisions of the logistics groups UPS and FedEx are also among the signatories.

Airplanes no longer usable?

The new standard, which uses frequencies in the so-called C-band, is to start tomorrow in the USA. In the United States, this could render many machines “unusable” and lead to hundreds of thousands of Americans being stranded abroad and chaos ensuing, the airlines wrote.

The US aviation industry has long warned of the dangers to air traffic from interference between aircraft technical systems and 5G transmitters. The companies are particularly concerned about devices near airports that have not yet been certified, which could interfere with the aircraft’s altimeters at critical moments. On a day like last Sunday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be affected by cancellations, diversions or delays, the companies explain.

The world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, had already criticized the new 5G standard in December. They also see security risks for some machines.

Dangerously close to the radar altimeters

In the USA, the 5G standard uses frequency ranges in the C band that are above 3.7 gigahertz. From the point of view of experts, they are possibly dangerously close to the range between 4.2 and 4.4 gigahertz used by radar altimeters in commercial aircraft.

According to the German air traffic control DFS, the problem does not exist in Germany. In Germany, only frequency ranges below 3.7 gigahertz are used for 5G. According to the DFS, this is far enough away from the areas of the altimeters in the machines. A 5G antenna has already been put into operation at BER Airport in Berlin.

Buffer zone for six months

For the US, the airline companies are calling for a moratorium until the FAA can determine how the use of 5G technology can be “introduced safely and without catastrophic disruption”. The FAA said on Sunday that it had cleared the operation of certain 5G transmitters near “up to 48 of the 88 airports that may be most directly affected by 5G C-band interference.”

The US telecommunications providers AT&T and Verizon received frequencies for the construction of the 5G network last spring, for which they had applied in a public tender worth billions. The two US mobile communications companies AT&T and Verizon had agreed to a buffer zone around around 50 airports to reduce risks and other steps in the next six months.

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