Federal safety officials are directing operators of some Boeing planes to take extra steps when landing on wet or snowy runways near impending 5G service because, they say, interference from wireless networks could mean planes need more space. to land.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that interference could delay systems such as thrust reversers on a Boeing 787, leaving only the brakes to slow the plane down. This “could prevent an aircraft from stopping on the runway,” the FAA said.
Similar orders may be issued in the coming days for other planes. The FAA asked Boeing and Airbus for information on many models. Boeing said it is working with its suppliers, airlines, telecommunications companies and regulators “to ensure that every commercial airliner model can operate safely and reliably when 5G is rolled out in the United States.”
The order for the Boeing jets comes a day after the FAA began issuing restrictions that airlines and other aircraft operators will face at many airports when AT&T and Verizon launch a new, faster 5G wireless service on Wednesday.
The agency is still studying whether these wireless networks will interfere with altimeters, which measure the height of an aircraft above the ground. Altimeter data is used to help pilots land when visibility is poor.
The devices operate in a portion of the radio spectrum that is close to the band used by the new 5G service, called C-Band.
This week’s FAA actions are part of a larger struggle between the aviation regulator and the telecommunications industry. Telecommunications companies and the Federal Communications Commission say 5G networks pose no threat to aviation. The FAA says more studies are needed.
The FAA is running tests to find out how many commercial airliners have altimeters that could be vulnerable to spectrum interference. The agency said this week that it hopes to estimate the percentage of those planes soon, but did not put a date for that.
“Aircraft with untested altimeters or that need retrofitting or replacement will not be able to perform low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed,” the agency said in a statement.
The order for the Boeing 787 covers 137 planes in the US and 1,010 worldwide. The 787 is a twin-aisle aircraft that is popular on longer routes, including many international flights.
The FAA said that based on information from Boeing, 787s may not properly switch from flight mode to landing mode if there is interference, which could delay activation of systems that help slow the plane down.
AT&T and Verizon have twice agreed to delay the activation of their new networks due to concerns raised by aviation groups and the FAA, most recently after the FAA and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke out on the aviation industry side. Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson warned that flights could be canceled or diverted to avoid potential safety hazards.
Under an agreement with telecom companies, the FAA has designated 50 airports that will have buffer zones in which companies will turn off 5G transmitters or make other changes to limit potential interference through early July.
The 50 include the three major New York area airports — LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty — O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Los Angeles International and San Francisco.
This telecommunications concession was modeled after an approach used in France, although the FAA said last week that France is demanding more drastic reductions in the range of cell towers around airports.
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