Europe moves forward as US aviation and telecom giants fight over 5G

Europeans are scratching their heads as aviation heavyweights argue with U.S. cellular service providers over possible 5G interference with vital flight safety systems.

U.S. Telecommunications delayed rollout of the new service by a month on Dec. 5 after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a last-minute warning that emissions from cell towers near airports could interfere with automated landing systems and aircraft altimeters, the instrument indicates the altitude of an aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers say they still need more time to figure out the problem, and say the premature entry into service of the technology could lead to an aviation disaster.

A leading trade group for the airline industry, Airlines for America, on Thursday filed an emergency request with the Federal Communications Commission to delay the deployment.

But Steffen Ring, a telecommunications consultant in Copenhagen who worked on the European Commission’s 5G deployment, said cellular service upgrades simply haven’t been a problem for the safety of transatlantic flights, despite the ongoing deployment of the European Union.

Mr Ring said concerns about 5G’s potential interference with aircraft were raised in November as delegates from across Europe gathered for a plenary session, possibly in response to discussions on the matter. in the USA.

But there was little to discuss.

“Nobody spoke,” he said. “It was absolute silence in the room. Forty-eight countries participated and there was absolute silence in the room.

Mr Ring said the FAA guidelines on the matter sent shockwaves around the world, and he said given concerns raised in the United States, several European countries have started to study the emissions. 5G near airports.

But there are no plans to slow the deployment in Europe, he said. And he thinks any further hiatus in the United States would be overkill.

“As long as there is no hard evidence, then everything is going according to plan,” he said. “The European Commission is keen to see this move forward.

The mobile phone providers in the United States agree.

The same C-band spectrum reserved for 5G in the United States is already being used for 5G in dozens of other countries unrelated to interference with aircraft, AT&T and Verizon executives noted in a letter addressed to them. this month to FCC President Jessica Rosenworcel.

Live flight tests by the French military and the Norwegian Communications Authority also showed “no anomalies,” wrote the executives, AT&T Vice President of Federal Regulatory Relations Joan Marsh, and Verizon Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs Kathleen Grillo.

After spending more than $ 81 billion in FCC service licenses in February, US cellular providers are scrambling to turn on the new frequency on January 5. But after delaying their initial deployment last month, aircraft manufacturers have continued to sound the alarm bells. .

On December 21, Dave Calhoun of Boeing and Jeff Knittel of Airbus Americas co-signed a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warning that the continued deployment of 5G could have “a huge negative impact on the airline industry.” aviation ”, including if the FCC does so. not put in place additional guarantees.

Cellular service providers say fears are overblown about 5G zapping flight altimeters and automated systems that help planes land.

AT&T and Verizon have offered additional precautions limiting emissions from cell towers near airports, but aviation experts say the guarantees don’t go far enough.

Airlines for America said the FAA would be forced to halt thousands of flights once deployment began, unless the FCC and Telecom came up with a viable solution. The restrictions would affect more than 35,000 passenger flights and cost more than $ 1.7 billion in annual operating costs, the group said.

But Ms Marsh and Ms Grillo said the rapid deployment of the technology is “essential to the global leadership of the United States.”

“China’s current position in the 5G equipment market has raised not only economic concerns, but also fears about whether security vulnerabilities in Chinese equipment could pose threats to national interests beyond mere hacking. by third parties, ”they wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, any further delay in launching C-Band for 5G will not only set back US leadership in 5G, but it will also undermine the credibility of US technology leadership and, potentially, US efforts to promote a safer and more reliable world. communication infrastructure.

Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a November editorial that further delay could cause real harm. She said a one-year delay would subtract $ 50 billion in economic growth, “just as our nation recovers and rebuilds itself from the pandemic.”

The FAA and the aviation industry, she said, are forcing “a false choice that the United States doesn’t have to make.”

In a joint statement by the CTIA, Airlines for America and the Aerospace Industries Association, the groups announced that they would “work together to share available data from all parties to identify specific areas of concern for aviation “.

“Top technical experts from both sectors will work together to identify a way forward, in coordination with the FAA and FCC,” the groups said. “Our belief is that by working collaboratively in good faith on a data-driven solution, we can achieve our common goal of deploying 5G while preserving aviation safety. “

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Ring’s first name. It’s Steffen.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the date of the letter sent to Mr. Buttigieg by Boeing and Airbus executives. It was sent on December 21, 2021.

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