(NEXSTAR) – Next year, airline passengers within the European Union will no longer have to set their mobile phones to “airplane mode” when boarding a flight.
The European Commission decided in November to allow airlines operating in the EU to “provide the latest 5G technology on their planes”, allowing passengers to use their phones as they would on the ground, and resulting in faster messaging, phone and data services. , according to a recent press release.
In the United States, however, the same idea seems to be just a fantasy.
As it stands, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restrict the use of cellular devices on civil aircraft, except for devices that can be disabled from cellular transmission functions – or, in other words, devices that can be placed in “airplane mode”.
The reasoning, as repeatedly pointed out by the FAA, relates to the potential for certain signals to cause interference to the aircraft’s “navigation or communications” system, consistent with FAA advisories and federal regulations. The FCC has also said in the past that a ban on the use of certain frequency bands was put in place to prevent in-flight use from creating “potential interference with wireless networks on the ground.”
When wireless service providers started moving to 5G, it presented another set of problems.
And even as recently as this year, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the rollout of 5G services near dozens of airports at the behest of the government, amid concerns the relatively new technology could interfere with plane altimeters. – instruments used by pilots to measure altitude and assist in landings in low visibility, and which provide information to the automated safety systems of an aircraft.
“In the United States, 5G services were launched in 46 markets on January 19, using frequencies in a radio spectrum called the C-band,” the FAA explains on its website. “These frequencies can be close to those used by radio altimeters, important safety equipment in aircraft.”
The FAA and the US aviation industry are working to fix the problem, in part by asking airlines and aircraft operators to retrofit or retrofit planes with altimeters that aren’t susceptible to 5G interference. Verizon and AT&T had also agreed earlier this year to a “certain level of voluntary mitigation” regarding the deployment of 5G near specific airports, at least until the middle of 2023, the FAA announced in June.
Why, then, would the European Commission move to allow 5G technology in EU aircraft, when most aircraft models are the same as those operated by US-based airlines?
The FAA says that’s because 5G technology in other parts of the world works differently than it does in the United States. Their arrays may use low-power, strategically placed antennas, and perhaps more importantly, “frequencies with different proximity to the frequencies used by aircraft equipment.” ”
Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the UK’s Flight Safety Committee, spoke of the same difference last week.
“There is much less chance of interference,” Whittingham said, according to the BBC. “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than what has been allowed in the US”
At the end of the line ? The FAA is working to protect airlines and aviators from possible interference from 5G networks, but more work needs to be done.
In its latest 5G update in June, the FAA said “primary commercial” fleets should be equipped with upgraded 5G altimeters or filters by July 2023, after which wireless companies should continue rolling out networks. 5G near most airports “with minimal restrictions”. ”
It’s likely, however, that airline passengers will have to wait for the FAA to conduct additional safety testing before they get the green light to use 5G capabilities in the air.
“Aviation in the United States is the safest in the world. That’s because we rely on data to mitigate risk and never assume any given equipment or flight scenario is safe until that it can be demonstrated,” the FAA states on its website.
“If there is a risk to the traveling public, we are obliged to restrict the relevant flight activity until we can prove it is safe.”
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