5G and Aviation Safety (2023)

The FAA is working to ensure that radio signals from newly activated wireless telecommunications systems can coexist safely with flight operations in the United States, with input from the aviation sector and telecommunications industry.

Check here for information and updates as this work continues.

The Safety Issue

Safety is our mission, and it guides all of our decisions. In the United States, 5G services launched in 46 markets on January 19, using frequencies in a radio spectrum called the C-band. These frequencies can be close to those used by radio altimeters, an important piece of safety equipment in aircraft. To make sure that this does not lead to hazardous interference, the FAA requires that radio altimeters are accurate and reliable.

Disruption Risk to Aviation from 5G

Because the proposed 5G deployment involves a new combination of power levels, frequencies, proximity to flight operations, and other factors, the FAA must impose restrictions on flight operations using certain types of radio altimeter equipment close to antennas in 5G networks.

These safety restrictions could affect flight schedules and operations. The FAA continues to work every day to reduce effects of this disruption as we make progress to safely integrate 5G and aviation.

Collaborative Work Underway to Reduce Delay, Cancellation Risk

Is my airport affected?
This map shows the percentage of the U.S. commercial fleet and aircraft types that can land at U.S. airports with low-visibility approaches or a high-volume of aircraft with systems that could be adversely affected by 5G.

If your local airport is not on this map, it is likely for one of two reasons:

  1. The airport isn't in the 5G deployment area.
  2. The airport doesn't currently have the runway systems needed to support low-visibility landings,even without 5G.

* This map is not intended to replace any NOTAM or other official safety information.

Progress during the January 5-18, 2022, deployment delay
During that time, the FAA:

  • Received vital 5G transmitter location and power level information from the wireless companies.
  • Facilitated data sharing between avionics manufacturers and wireless companies.
  • Worked with airlines to help manage and minimize potential delays and cancellations in affected areas.
  • Determined that some GPS-guided approaches may be used at certain airports.
  • Educated aviation stakeholders.
  • Worked with airlines on how they can demonstrate altimeters are safe and reliable in certain 5G C-band environments. This is known as the Alternative Method of Compliance (AMOC) process.

Questions and Answers

I’ve heard about 5G already being deployed in other countries, such as France and Japan, with no issues. Why would the U.S. be different?
The U.S. airspace is the most complex in the world, and the FAA holds ourselves and our aviation sector to the highest safety standards. Deployments of 5G technology in other countries often involve different conditions than those proposed for the U.S., including:

  • Lower power levels
  • Antennas adjusted to reduce potential interference to flights
  • Different placement of antennas relative to airfields
  • Frequencies with a different proximity to frequencies used by aviation equipment

NOTAMs, AMOCs. The FAA uses many acronyms. Translate for me.
NOTAMstands for Notice to Air Missions. They provide information on restrictions or procedures that pilots and others need to follow.

AMOC stands for Alternative Method of Compliance. The AMOC process allows operators or manufacturers to demonstrate alternative ways to mitigate an unsafe situation. This process is used to clear altimeters that have been proven to be reliable and accurate in certain high-powered 5G environments.

What are radio altimeters?
Radio altimeters provide highly accurate information about an aircraft’s height above the ground. Data from these radio altimeters informs other safety equipment on the plane, including navigation instruments, terrain awareness, and collision-avoidance systems.

The FAA says 5G “may” cause interference. So how do you know there’s a safety risk?
Aviation in the U.S. is the safest in the world. That’s because we rely on data to mitigate risk, and never assume that a piece of equipment or a given flight scenario is safe until this can be demonstrated. If there’s the possibility of a risk to the flying public, we are obligated to restrict the relevant flight activity until we can prove it is safe.

Why does an aircraft still need an approved altimeter if there is a bigger buffer now around airports?
The FAA is working with manufacturers to determine which altimeters are accurate and reliable in the U.S. 5G deployment. The agency continues to review manufacturer testing data to determine how robust each model is.

What about helicopters?
The FAA allows air ambulance operators to continue using safety-enhancing night vision goggles in areas where the aircraft’s radio altimeter could be unreliable due to 5G C-band interference as identified by NOTAMs. Operators must comply with specific conditions and limitations. Similar to commercial aircraft, helicopters can perform day and night operations that do not require the use of a radio altimeter.

Why haven’t the NOTAMs gone away?
The wireless companies' actions reduce the amount of 5G around airports, but do not fully eliminate it. The NOTAMs let pilots and others know that there is 5G present. Any restrictions in a NOTAM do not apply if an aircraft has an approved altimeter to operate. Since some aircraft still do not have an approved altimeter, the restrictions outlined in the NOTAM still apply.

Are the AMOCs you’ve issued going to remain in effect indefinitely?
No. The AMOCs that we issued in advance of the rollout of 5G C-band will expire at the end of each month. That’s because the wireless carriers have towers that will go live at the beginning of each month as they build out their service.

So AMOCs could change every month?
Yes. We’re working with the wireless companies to get us tower activation information as early as possible so we can plan ahead.

Why are we only hearing about this now?
The FAA, the aviation industry, telecommunications companies, and their regulators, have been discussing and weighing these interference concerns for years, in the U.S. and internationally. Recent dialogue has helped to establish information sharing between aviation and telecommunications sectors and newly agreed measures to reduce the risk of disruption, but these issues are ongoing and will not be resolved overnight.

Resources

  • SAIB: AIR-21-18R1- Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin on the Risk of Potential Adverse Effects on Radio Altimeters
  • SAFO 21007- Safety Alert for Operators onRisk of Potential Adverse Effects on Radio Altimeters when Operating in the Presence of 5G C-Band Interference
  • AD 2021-23-12- Airworthiness Directive on altimeter interference and airplanes
  • AD 2021-23-13- Airworthiness Directive onaltimeter interference and helicopters
  • FCC Partial Economic Areas(PEAs) 1-4, 6-10, 12-19, 21-41, and 43-50
  • DOT Letter to NTIA re: FCC3.7 GHz Band Auction

FAA Statements on 5G

(Video) Explained: Does 5G pose a threat to airline safety?
(Video) 5G And Aviation Safety + Senate Passes Civil Aviation Bill | Aviation This Week

Videos

1. 5G signals pose a risk to aircraft while in flight
(Sky News)
2. US officials ask AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout over aviation safety concerns
(CNBC Television)
3. Is 5G a threat to airline safety? | Tech It Out
(WION)
4. Airlines’ concerns about 5G were ‘well known for years': former FAA head
(ABC News)
5. FAA warns of potential impact of 5G towers on airplane safety systems
(CBS Evening News)
6. 5G and airline safety can co-exist,’ former FAA administrator says
(Yahoo Finance)
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