IATA urges govts. to prioritize aviation safety in 5G rollout

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has raised concerns over safety the fifth-generation mobile network-5G will have on the aviation sector.

This comes on the backdrop of the rollout of the superior wireless technology across the world by various countries.

Kenya through the largest mobile telecommunication service provider, Safaricom already launched 5G trials in March last year with the wireless network now available in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega as the firm plans to establish more than 150 sites across the country by the end of the year.

However according to IATA Director General Willie Walsh, maintaining current levels of safety of passengers, flight crews, and aircraft must continue to be one of governments’ highest priorities with continued rollout of the spectrum which he says is important in supporting next-generation commercial wireless telecommunications.

“We must not repeat the recent experience in the United States, where the rollout of C-band spectrum 5G services created enormous disruption to aviation, owing to the potential risk of interference with radio altimeters that are critical to aircraft landing and safety systems. In fact, many countries have successfully managed to facilitate the requirements of 5G service providers, while including necessary mitigations to preserve aviation safety and uninterrupted services. These include, for example, Brazil, Canada, France and Thailand,” said Walsh.

In January this year, US airlines raised fears that C-band 5G signal would disrupt aircraft’s navigation systems such as those used in bad weather.

IATA advises that before deciding on any spectrum allocations or conducting spectrum auctions, governments should ensure close coordination and mutual understandings between the national spectrum and aviation safety regulators so that each frequency allocation/assignment is comprehensively studied and is proven not to adversely impact aviation safety and efficiency.

Additionally, robust testing in coordination with aviation subject matter experts is critically important in providing necessary information.

IATA noted that airlines operating to/from and within the US continue to contend with the effects of the rollout of 5G, including a pending airworthiness directive from the Federal Aviation Administration requiring them to retrofit/upgrade radio altimeters at their own expense to enable the respective aircraft to continue to utilize CAT II and CAT III low-visibility approaches at many US airports where 5G C-Band service is currently or will be deployed in future.

The timely availability of upgraded altimeters is a concern, as are the cost of these investments and the lack of certainty regarding the future spectrum environment. Furthermore, 19 additional telecommunications companies are scheduled to deploy 5G networks by December 2023.

“FAA’s unilateral decision to require airlines to replace or upgrade their existing radio altimeters – which are approved by both the FAA and the US Federal Communications Commission – by July 2023 is deeply disappointing and unrealistic. The FAA has not even approved or certified all the safety solutions that it will require, nor have systems providers been able to say with certainty when the equipment will be available for much of the fleet,” said Walsh.


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