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UAE rolled out 5G without an incident at airports, but why is US facing issue

Aviation analysts say that it should not be a cause of concern for the airlines operating a modern fleet of aircraft



An aircraft takes off from O'Hare International Airport on January 18, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: AFP
An aircraft takes off from O'Hare International Airport on January 18, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: AFP
by

Waheed Abbas

Published: Wed 19 Jan 2022, 7:03 PM

Last updated: Wed 19 Jan 2022, 10:55 PM

The UAE successfully rolled out 5G at its airports without an incident, similar to 40 other countries. But the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), worries that the C-Band strand of 5G could interfere with radio altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.

As a result, many airlines, including Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airways and Lufthansa, suspended flights to US destinations. Following FAA’s statement, US telecom firms AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the launch of 5G near the US airports.

Aviation analysts say that it should not be a cause of concern for the airlines operating a modern fleet of aircraft, such as the UAE. The UAE had begun rolling out 5G in mid-2019.

“The issue is overlapping bands between 5G range and radar range, and both are internationally mandated. The 5G, specifically C-band, is between 3.7 and 3.9 GHz, and the radar band is between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz, so there is a distinction. The issue is adjacent interference – picking up information from instruments outside the band. This potentially has an impact on a piece of equipment on the aeroplane called radar altimeter, which measures the altitude of the plane 200 feet before landing,” says Sabimir Sabev, managing director for strategy and performance improvement practice at Alvarez & Marsal, Dubai.

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He suggested that updating the filters that receive information is the potential solution.

“If the airline has relatively a modern pool of aircraft, like the ones we have in the UAE, I don’t think there will be much of an issue. Some of the low-cost operators may have a slightly more aged asset base,” he said.

“The challenge is that there should be a clear understanding of the asset register of the airlines, the aeroplanes and how old they were when they were last refreshed, and then you have to dovetail the updates with the aircraft system. It’s more to do with how old the aircraft is, and that piece of equipment is maintained in a proper way,” he added.

Sabev noted that aeroplanes can continue to fly but in a particular period for time without disrupting their flight patrons. "The technical solution is there, and it isn’t expensive. So it’s just a question of altitude radar being updated and calibrated properly," he added.

Andrew Charlton, managing director of Aviation Advocacy, said 5G has been rolled out in more than 40 countries with none of these problems, so it does seem odd that it is an issue in the USA. “It seems strange that this argument has blown up so quickly. Wolf crying?,” wondered Charlton.

He hoped that the 5G problem will be sorted out, one way or another, and will not last long.

-waheedabbas@khaleejtimes.com


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