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The 5G Fiasco From An Airline Pilot’s Point Of View

The rollout of 5G wireless service across the United States and its impact on air travel has become a massive story. It seems beyond comprehension that possible complications with the high-speed data networking services wouldn't have been deconflicted for flight safety long ago, but with tens of billions of dollars invested in these networks... ( More...

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Unfortunately, it looks like it will take a plane, on final, telling the pilot that it is at 100 ft, when it is really at 10 ft, and then........ . Who will get the blame then?
It's not just radar altimeters that are affected. Weather satellite data will also be degraded by 5G leakage into the the frequencies used to measure water vapor.

You've got to wonder--with tens of billions of dollars in licensing fees going to the FCC, a few million directed into the right pockets would have been chump change.
loubearr 10
I have 5G and I hardly notice any difference. I wonder why we even needed it? Was it to force us to buy new phones?

I think it was.
21voyageur 3
depends what you are doing. ex: watching sports with 3D multi-angle view? 5G. Hi-rez movies on a portable device? 5G. Games on wireless? 5G. No need for browsing, email, etc.
SkyAware123 2
hi rez on a 6 inch screen ? That's utter bullshit. Games? You only need low latency, not high speeds. 3d multi angle on a PHONE ? puleaze.... This is just a bragging race. LOOK AT US, WE GOT 245556433G
orvlnet 1
The difference between streaming 4k netflix on 4G LTE vs 5G is a matter of about 1 second of buffering. All of this is literally the avoid people having to wait even a single second for content to load on their phones. What a sad state of humanity.
Steve Strong 5
Perhaps it's been done but I've not seen it in any of the reports on this subject, I've not see a real world test of interference. There is 200MHz guard band which is not small and as the video pointed out the antennas are designed to point down (more or less) and the 5G towers are also designed to point down because that's where the people are. I'm pretty sure the requirements on the transmitters are such that the emissions 200MHz above the top 5G channel would be essentially background noise. All that's simplified for brevity, but makes the point. When I worked on transmitters previously our requirements were much tighter than 200MHz in any band up through Ka. As Patrick Smith said, they've had plenty of time to sort this out. If no one has really done real world testing then shame on all of them. If they have, then why aren't we hearing about it? As an engineer I'm not saying there is or isn't a problem because I don't have all the data, but it sure seems we aren't getting the full story from either side.
Jon Barrett 4
Also a Ham.
In Europe, the 5G antennas point slightly down. In the US, they're aimed horizontal. Also, in Europe they're operating 5G at lower power levels and with an upper band limit of 3.8 GHz, as opposed to the US' 3.98GHz. Aviation Week had an excellent graphic of the differences between the US and ROW.
Joe M. 3
(Electrical engineer here, who coincidentally has a ham radio license dating back a to the early 2000's).

My impression (without knowing too much about the 5G system)that it must have some sort of TDMA (time division multi-acess) component (i.e. fast enough switching to seemlessy manage multiple connection at nearly the same time).

What I'm wondering, cound't there be time blocks excluded for nothing but radio navigation purposes?
James Smith 1
One of the problems is that the radiated power from the 5G antenna may actually block the radar receiver from "hearing" the reflected pulses. It takes about 2 microseconds for the radar signal to make the round trip at 1,000 AGL. Any loss/alteration of the return signal will give false/no altitude reading.
ed lang 23
Sheer idiocy by the FCC! Let's impact the safety of flight so that millions of kids can watch TikTok faster.
Yes, the Europeans say they use it with no problem..but remember their system runs on a different frequency, at a lower power, and not near airports.
The government should step up and put safety over AT&T & Verizon profits.
Rosomak 8
“No, by all means… finish your Tweet”

21voyageur 11
IMHO, this is not really about other countries being able to accommodate (with reference to different frequencies, etc.) it is only about how dysfunctional and confrontational agencies in the USA are. Politics, greed, power, seemed to have blown common sense out of the room on this matter long ago.
Brandon Hull 3
+1 impossible to know which agency is 'more' at fault but this is obviously bad behavior by large and powerful federal agencies who were unable to cooperate until the issue slops over into headline brinkmanship, threats and tantrums. This issue illustrates why so many people don't trust fed govt with more responsibility: it is not competent with the tasks it already has...
21voyageur 4
Agreed. Is it me or does this appear almost 2nd or third world in nature?
James Smith 3
It may be hard to put safety over profits when those profits are shared with those in government.
patrick baker 18
the use of radar altimeters in needed , necessary conditions, being rendered uncertain so that folks can download movies and other downloads faster, is consumerism gone amok. The wireless companies are stuck in a cycle of having to offer new, exciting, better-than -the -other company products oblivious to what is unsafe for the flying public near airports.The federal government, specifically the FAA, should have the intessinal fortitude to do the right, safe, required things: stop 5G rollouts until proven to be entirely,, 100% safe everywhere under all conditions. DOes it have to come down to movie and data downloads risking airliner crashes or lesser brushes with safety?I bet the wireless behemouths can solve these faults within their systems quickly if they were denied start-up permission until they do so. The FAA is demonstrating they are not the safety organization they keep telling us they are.
Ken Lane 6
The interference is quite simple to understand. The 5G towers and phones are on a band just below the RF altimeters.

RF altimeters are very low power. Never mind the power lost in the attenuation during its bounce and return.

Even if towers are at a lower power to supposedly prevent interference, that does not mean a phone on board a plane cannot. That has yet to be tested in the real world.

This was studied a couple years ago. But, the phone companies continued the rollout and the FCC got their money so they didn't care.

The FCC could have intervened but they received $80 Billion in fees. That’s all they care about.

As a ham I’m quite familiar with RF interference. My folks are lucky I never played on six meters during the old days.
James Smith 2
Excellent comment. When I was a kid, the neighbor would call wanting to know if I was on 6m because channel 2 was all horizontal bars. Back then it was called Tennesee Valley Indians or TVI.
Patrick Henry 5
The sale of the C band to the 5G companies was several years ago. Why didn't the airlines start determining the impact before now? Why doesn't Europe have the same concerns?

Seems like a lot of "last minute" concerns which are self induced. Poor planning leads to poor performance.
Jon Barrett 4
The FAA and most air transport/industry/defense groups DID raise the issue right from the get-go. The FCC under Ajit Pai made another of their non-consumer-friendly decisions. So AT&T and Verizon won't activate their towers near major airports. What about medevac helicopters that don't operate to major airports? Poor planning was the FCC's refusal to consult with the aviation industry.
Patrick Smith 4
From another pilot's perspective (mine)...
paddyarizona 2
The situation in Europe is not quite the same as the US, but one thing that stands out in what I've been reading in recent days is the shortened buffer zone that arose from the C-band spectrum auctions in 2021. I'm by no means an expert, but why would the US reduce the buffer zone when they probably knew that the carriers would be operating at higher broadcast power levels? Seems like they shot themselves in the foot by giving the carriers the opportunity to enter into dangerous operating conditions.
That's pretty simple. Every MHz of bandwidth is worth billions in leases. The FCC has become a revenue generator for politicos. I've got a friend at NTIA that is beyond livid that FCC has been ignoring their recommendations.
paddyarizona 2
Yes, generally when stupid things happen in business it's for 1 of 2 reasons... incompetence or financial incentive. In this case, I think it's a combination of both.

I'm generally not a government basher, but it's hilarious to think that the [F]CC auctioned off licenses with a smaller safety buffer, to carriers who use stronger power signals, who make full use of that bandwidth, and then the [F]AA warns the airlines that it may not be safe for their planes to operate, and asks the carriers not to activate the towers near the airports. I guess the FCC and FAA didn't think it worthwhile to get on the same page before going down this rabbit-hole.

I can understand the carriers being annoyed - one hand of the government gives them spectrum, and then another hand tells them they can't use it near airports. SMH.
Matt Willmus 7
These pilots need to get with the times! Stop worrying about the old school radar altimeter and just use the Altimeter app on your new 5G smartphone to land the plane. Problem solved!
Bill Lucas 2
They (and us) are going to find out there is virtually no interference from 5G telecom transmitters on radar altimeters. They've already cleared 60% of aircraft to operate freely with the new 5G bands. Sure, they need to finish testing, but they'll end up being no safety issue. Then we can move on to the next social media controversy.
DGR Rathborne 1
As i'm in Toronto Canada , our Fed Gov't hasn't decided on a 5G supplier . Wahwai wants' the contract . But the whole Chinese thing has the Gov't in a knot . But some Telcom suppliers are advertising 5G up here . But the problem that the US is having ,doesn't seem to be a problem in Canada . If anyone has info , i'd love to know .
21voyageur 1
Bell and Rogers are delivering (limited geography) 5G now,
DGR Rathborne 1
I understand from the article ,that the 5G roll out was to happen on Tuesday , Jan 18th ,2022 . This was 6 days ago . My question to other readers is this : Did the 5G start go ahead ? and if so , has there been any reported mishaps by Flight Crews ? Thanks to all ......DGR
SkyAware123 1
delayed near airports only.
DGR Rathborne 1
thanks for your reply . It's appreciated
21voyageur 1
This lunacy is a gift that keeps on giving story-wise!
The rollout was delayed due to the aviation concerns.
DGR Rathborne 2
thanks for your reply . It's appreciated .
JimPlez 1
Time for the FCC to cover their error and let them pay the costs to make this right. They can use what they collected when they sold the frequencies to the phone services.
Jim Allen 1
I’m not quite so quick to put all the blame on the FCC, and I’m no fan of Ajit Pai either. Boeing didn’t want government oversight, remember? They let their own Internal management make decisions that should have went to a regulator. Well, when you don’t talk to a governing body, how likely are your concerns to get raised?
wiregold 0
Telecom execs paid $70 billion for the band. Ajit Pai was appointed by the stable genius so it's another MAGA moment for the Republic.
Ed Crist 0
Wait! Won't this just blow right through like the covid virus? And certainly bleach will fix this small problem, or maybe a magic light source. Ah, I know the answer, a terrorist mob to storm the FCC and set things right. Make America great again.
Won't a booster shot fix this?
21voyageur 3
No. But a swift kick in the ()*() may. ;-{)
DGR Rathborne 0
Reading all of the related 5G stories in this package about who is right and who is wrong , didn't clarify much for me . BUT reading the Captains perspective , Really set the story right . I have no real answer to this . But i suspect the insanity of this will not be dealt with until " Mishaps " begin to pile up . I'll certainly be watching the TV News feeds and looking forward to future FlightAware Alerts . This IS serious . DGR
Gordon Musch -4
As someone who travels I have made the decision to only fly Airbus until this get figured out. The re-insurance industry has noticed this situation. As ultimately they will pay if something happens. Airlines and telecoms insurance lawyers may have something else to add about liability. You will have trouble suing the government. But not the airlines and telecoms. And they are DEEP pockets. That is an incentive for lawyers and their percentage. I allready have asked my travel/trip insurance company can I get coverage for refusing a flight that uses a American plane. Every article says that Airbus altimeters do not have this issue. Now I know I will pay dearly for this coverage. But I prefer living vs. dieing in a firey plane crash. Now I suspect BOTH the FAA and the FCC of gross neglience.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

jeff slack 13
You obviously have not been reading why;

So what's different? Partly, it's the nature of bureaucracy, and partly it's that 5G uses slightly different bands in Europe than it does in the US.
M.F. LaBoo 3
I understand Eurpe is using a 300 Mhz guide band instead of our spec'd 200 Mhz ... and that we're temporarily requiring 400 Mhz until 200 Mhz is demmed "safe enough".
M.F. LaBoo 1
"Guard" band, that is 😖
Jon Barrett 0
Nope. The European 5G caps at 3.8 GHz; the US caps at 3.98 GHz. So the European 5G (and, BTW, T-Mobile's 5G) has 400 MHz separation.


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