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Australian airports flag 5G interference warnings

Airport authorities are worried the new technology could impact aircraft instruments that use the same band of spectrum to land safely

Airports in Australia have flagged concerns around 5G services in specific spectrum bands interfering with radio altimeters in planes.

Airport operators made the comments in various letters to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which is currently consulting on the reuse of 3.7Ghz-4.2Ghz spectrum to support 5G services, as reported by IT News.

Australian airport operators and authorities are now seeking zoning restrictions with assurances that certain reuses of the spectrum won’t interfere with essential plane systems, especially those used for landing in low visibility like radio altimeters.

Sydney airport authorities, for example, highlighted that radio altimeters measure the height of an aircraft above ground level when it is operating at low altitude on approach to an airport’s runway. 

The authorities flagged that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7-3.98GHz band could cause harmful interference to these radio altimeters. This could restrict an aircraft’s ability to operate in low visibility conditions, increase an aircraft’s landing distance requirements, and make its traffic collision avoidance system unavailable.

As part of a solution, the authorities suggested establishing a 5G exclusion or reduced operating area around airports, reducing transmitter power around airports, tilting the angle of 5G towers downward to reduce potential aircraft interference or fitting more modern altimeters to existing aircraft.

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Melbourne Airport echoed this and said that it seeks an outcome that ensures the safety of aircraft and passengers. 

“International airlines are required to comply with the regulations of their home state. Any failure to meet safety requirements, or where the correct function of the radar altimeter may be adversely impacted, this could result in international airlines choosing or being directed to limit their aircraft operations to Australia, reducing capacity and access to international markets,” warned Jai McDermott, chief of Ground Transport, Public Affairs & Sustainability at the airport in a letter to ACMA. 

“This outcome has already been experienced in the United States with an international operator significantly limiting flights to several major airports due to concerns with 5G interference on aircraft systems,” added McDermott.

In January, mobile operators AT&T and Verizon agreed to postpone the rollout of 5G around several US airports following warnings of “major disruption”. The deployment of parts of each network’s 5G spectrum was meant to be switched on throughout the country on 19 January, but the operators decided to temporarily exclude airports from the rollout following protests from airline operators and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This was because there were fears the spectrum would negatively impact radio altitude metres, which could have led to disrupted flights.

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