Safety questions remain ahead of expanded 5G rollout

Local

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – With more 5G coverage coming for cell phones, concern remains over possible signal interference for the airlines. Cell carriers are ready to activate new towers this week, and the FAA is asking them to hold off.

AT&T and Verizon said Monday they will delay activating the service for two weeks following a request by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“It’s clear the airline industry and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) have concerns,” said Harold Feld, Senior Vice President for the Public Knowledge Advocate group.

Feld says the concern is over altimeters in airplanes. The altimeter is an instrument that measures how close you are to the ground.

Locally, Teresa Ortega is a managing partner in Ortega Aviation Services of Wichita.

Ortega’s group teaches pilots and offers aviation research expertise.

“Is there concern? Yes, the FAA has concerns,” said Ortega. “The altimeter is crucial for landing in cloudy or foggy conditions.”

Ortega says the big airlines rely on altimeter readings for safety. She also says there has been a lot of study as to whether or not 5G signals can offer interference for altimeters.

“The FAA, they’re pilots,” said Ortega. “And typically, they’re going to err on the side of caution. They’re going to look for the safest way to do things.”

Some aviation experts say the FCC claims expanding 5G service with new towers is safe. And they say the FAA offers a different thought on safety.

“The FAA still has questions, and they are asking for a slower rollout of the (cell) carriers,” said Mike Stengel, Sr. Associate at Aerodynamic Advisory. “If they have to, they will prohibit aircraft from operating at certain conditions that would require the use of the radar altimeter.”

Stengel says there may be a decision by the cellular companies soon on rolling out the expanded 5G coverage. He also says if any serious interference surfaces, it could cause flight schedules to change or slow.

“In fact, the FAA is still investigating right now,” said Stengel.

Stengel says there will be a decision this week, as expanded 5G coverage is scheduled to roll out.

Ortega says if there is interference, planes will likely return to the air and hold or look for a secondary airfield.

“I don’t think there will be any catastrophic interference. But do I think it will happen? Sure,” said Ortega. “Will we hear about it? Probably not because it will not be catastrophic. I’m very optimistic.”

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