The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to work closely with the aviation industry to ensure that aviation and mandatory aviation safety systems can safely co-exist with new 5G services.
1. Safety first
During IATA’s 78th Annual General Meeting yesterday in Doha, Qatar, the Association recognized the economic importance of making spectrum available to support next generation commercial wireless telecommunications, yet it noted that current levels of safety of passengers, flight crews, and aircraft must continue to be one of governments’ highest priorities.
“We must not repeat the recent experience in the United States, where the rollout of C-band spectrum 5G services created enormous disruption to aviation, owing to the potential risk of interference with radio altimeters that are critical to aircraft landing and safety systems,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
2. Best practices
Some governments worldwide have already put in place a number of measures seeking to avert any kind of crisis shutting down the communication systems of aircraft. Some of the measures include thorough testing between 5G C-band deployments and 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency band used by existing radio altimeters and establishing sufficient 5G C-band prohibition and precautionary zones around airports.
Many countries have successfully managed to facilitate the requirements of 5G service providers, while including necessary mitigations to preserve aviation safety and uninterrupted services. These include, for example, Brazil, Canada, France and Thailand.Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General
Yet, before any decision to allocate spectrum or conduct spectrum auctions, IATA called for governments to ensure close coordination and mutual understandings between national spectrum and aviation safety regulators so that each frequency allocation or assignment is comprehensively studied and is proven not to adversely impact aviation safety and efficiency.
3. Pending airworthiness directive
IATA noted that airlines operating to or from and within the US continue to contend with the effects of the rollout of 5G, including a pending airworthiness directive from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requiring them to retrofit/upgrade radio altimeters at their own expense.
Airlines are responsible to enable their aircraft in order to continue to utilize CAT II and CAT III low-visibility approaches — a procedure to ensure safe grounding operations — at many US airports where 5G C-Band service is currently or will be deployed in future.
In recent months, the FAA has been urging airlines to complete retrofits of some airplane radio altimeters that could face interference from C-Band 5G wireless service by the end of 2022.
The timely availability of upgraded altimeters is a concern, as are the cost of these investments and the lack of certainty regarding the future spectrum environment. Furthermore, 19 additional telecommunications companies are scheduled to deploy 5G networks by December 2023.
IATA represents some 290 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic.