Iata welcomes ‘stop-gap’ 5G mitigation at US airports

Iata welcomes ‘stop-gap’ 5G mitigation at US airports

Safety concerns exist over interference with aircraft systems

A “stop-gap” solution to ensure aircraft safety systems can co-exist with the next generation of 5G mobile services at US airports has been welcomed by Iata.

Mobile providers AT&T Services, T-Mobile, UScellular, and Verizon have agreed to extend “voluntary mitigation measures” for 5G C-band transmissions at 188 airports in the US from July 1 this year until January 2028. 

The measures, which were put in place in January 2022 concurrent with the rollout of 5G C-band operations at or near US airports, include lowering the power of 5G transmissions. 

“However, while the agreement is a welcome stop-gap development, it is by no means a solution,” Iata warned. 

“The underlying safety and economic issues around 5G C-band deployments by telecommunications services providers have only been kicked down the road.”

The activation of 5G C-band operations in 2022 threatened “enormous disruption” to the US air transport system because of the potential risk of interference with aircraft radio altimeters [radalts] that also use C-band spectrum and are critical to aircraft landing and safety systems.

This was only addressed at the eleventh hour when AT&T and Verizon agreed to a voluntary power limit for 5G C-band transmissions near airports.

The cost of fleet-wide radalt upgrading is estimated at more than $638 million, according to the airline trade body.

Iata operations, safety and security senior vice president Nick Careen said: “Airlines did not create this situation. They are victims of poor government planning and co-ordination. 

“Industry concerns about 5G, expressed for many years in the appropriate forums, were ignored and over-ridden. Half-measure solutions have been foisted upon airlines to implement at their own expense and with little visibility into their long-term viability. 

“This extension is an opportunity for all stakeholders, including telcos [telecommunications services providers], government regulators, airlines and equipment manufacturers, to work together for a fair and equitable solution.” 

He added: “Many airlines have indicated that despite their best efforts they will not meet the 1 July deadline owing to supply chain issues. But even for those that do, these investments will bring no gains in operating efficiency.

“Furthermore, this is only a temporary holding action. Under current scenarios, airlines will have to retrofit most of their  aircraft twice in just five years. And with the standards for the second retrofit yet to be developed we could easily be facing the same supply chain issues in 2028 that we are struggling with today.

“This is patently unfair and wasteful. We need a more rational approach that does not place the entire burden for addressing this unfortunate situation on aviation.”