Slacker’s Syllabus: Why 5G Is Messing With Flights

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Originally Published: 
WTF is going on with 5G? WTF is going on with 5G? WTF is going on with 5G? WTF is going on with 5G?

5G has gotten a lot of bad press.

We’ve all heard at least one or two tinfoil-hat conspiracies about 5G. For awhile, people were even suggesting that it caused coronavirus (which, I have to stress, is not true).

But overnight, a bunch of media outlets latched onto one new story: Several international airlines have developed a sudden hatred of 5G.

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This week, international airlines like Emirates Airways, Japan Airlines, and British Airways delayed or cancelled flights to the United States.

Each airline cited 5G as the cause. Emirates, which suspended flights to nine different airports, said it did so due to “operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services.”

Meanwhile, United told customers to contact the Federal Communications Commissions with any questions about their flight delay.

Now, a bunch of airlines didn’t just buy into some random online conspiracy. Which begs the question ...

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5G? 5G? 5G? 5G? 5G? 5G? 5G? 5G?
The 5G problem wasn’t sudden.

In an interview, Joe DePete, head of the Air Line Pilots Association, said 5G has been a concern since 2018, because you have to make sure that the radio frequencies for 5G don’t mess with airplane equipment.

Per NPR, in 2020, the FCC sold a big part of the “C” band of radio spectrum to wireless carriers for about $80 billion.

And the “C” spectrum AT&T and Verizon bought sits right next to frequencies used by radio altimeters in planes, which determine how far from the ground the aircraft is.

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“The radio altimeters on our aircraft determine not only the height above the ground ... [when] we come in for a landing or we’re taking off, but they’re tied to many other systems in our aircraft.”


The Federal Aviation Administration also warned that 5G could affect airplane instruments, leading to pilots being unable to operate in low visibility.

Verizon and AT&T, however, argue that they have already deployed C-band 5G in about 40 countries without any issues.

Still, earlier this month, telecom CEOs agreed to briefly delay 5G service and establish buffer zones around 50 airports, after a request from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

That delay was meant to expire Wednesday.

So, AT&T and Verizon planned to launch new 5G networks near major airports.

But once again, the wireless carriers delayed launching 5G near key airports following continued concern from airlines.

President Biden said his administration is working on a solution. For now, though, the decision to extend the delay “will avoid potentially devastating disruptions ... while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled,” Biden said.

For airline executives though, another delay isn’t enough.

They’re urging federal officials to create a 2-mile 5G-free buffer zones around runways at certain high-traffic airports.

In a letter, the CEOs of 10 airlines, including American, Delta, and United, wrote, “To be blunt, the nation’'s commerce will grind to a halt. ... Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded.”

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