The chief executives of several major U.S. airlines have written to the U.S. Government warning of “catastrophic” disruptions to aviation if telecommunications companies Verizon and AT&T proceed with the rollout of a new 5G service this week.
The concerns relate to ‘radio altimeters’, which are used to measure the distance between the plane and the ground. Altimeters are important for landing in cloudy conditions or mountainous terrain.
The airlines are concerned the new 5G service is using airwaves that are too close in frequency to the airwaves altimeters use, and that this could affect the accuracy of altimeter readings.
The communications industry points out the same 5G technology has already been rolled out in several countries without issue, including Australia. The Australian Communications and Media Authority considered the issue last year and concluded the difference in frequencies between 5G and altimeters was “sufficient”.
Last year, the U.S. airlines agreed to test how well radio altimeters perform in real-world conditions and to lift restrictions on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis once they are deemed safe. Experts have suggested that problems are most likely to occur in older planes.