The Airlines Versus The Cellular Service Providers

Some U.S. airlines have warned of “catastrophic disruptions” if Verizon and AT&T provide 5G service near airports. The 5G cell phone frequencies are separate from the frequencies used by an airliner’s radar altimeter. But the frequencies are said to be close enough to possibly interfere with the operation of older radar altimeters. Since the question about interference is as yet unresolved, the FAA will not allow airliners with older radar altimeters to make the automatic landings necessary to land in extremely poor weather.

Radar altimeters send a signal from the airliner down to the ground below. The signal bounces back toward the plane. The time it takes for the signal to make the round trip is digitally converted into altitude above the ground. This very accurate measurement is used when an airliner performs an automatic landing which allows a plane to land in extremely poor weather conditions.

The cellular service providers paid $65 billion for the frequencies in question. Thus, they take the position that the airlines need to get their act together and replace outdated radar altimeters that the airlines say may not be able to filter out 5G signals. So far, the cellular service providers have prevailed. But U.S. airlines are now saying there will be “chaos” if 5G sites withing two miles of a runway are allowed to begin operation.

But few airports have a 5G tower that close by. And pilots rarely use the radar altimeter. Weather conditions that call for an automatic landing are rare. In my entire airline career, I had to make two automatic landings: one in Paris and one in London. None in the U.S.

A wireless industry trade group says nearly 40 countries are using 5G with even less spacing between the 5G frequencies and the radio altimeter frequencies and there have been no interference problems.

In any case, anxious fliers can be assured that there is no safety problem. The FAA is making sure of that by not allowing planes with the older radar altimeters to do automatic landings at the airports with a 5G cell tower within two miles.




Tom Bunn is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist. He is the originator of the SOAR Fear of Flying Program.

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Capt Tom Bunn

Capt Tom Bunn

Tom Bunn is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist. He is the originator of the SOAR Fear of Flying Program.

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