FedEx and UPS operate large Boeing freighters FAA says vulnerable to 5G
New Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibiting Boeing 747-8 freighters and all 777 wide-body aircraft from landing at airports where 5G towers could interfere with onboard safety equipment could disproportionately impact major airlines freight airlines such as UPS, FedEx and Atlas Air.
the Airworthiness Directive issued Tuesday said the FAA has identified an additional danger of interference with radio altimeters beyond creating a landing hazard in low visibility conditions. Specifically, signal interference could cause the altimeters to transmit erroneous data to the flight computers which control the aircraft’s pitch and place it in an inappropriate “up-down” position regardless of weather conditions. which is “particularly dangerous” at low altitudes.
Other systems could also be compromised, which, combined with inappropriate and uncommanded pitch inputs, “could affect the flight crew’s ability to accomplish safe and continuous flight and landing,” the directive states.
The document also covers the 747-8 passenger variants. Boeing 747-400s and classic models are not covered.
In total, there are about 336 U.S.-registered aircraft and 1,714 worldwide that are affected by the rule, according to the FAA.
UPS Airlines (NYSE: UPS) operates 22 747-8 freighters, according to a fact sheet posted on its website. Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW), the world’s largest 747 operator, has 10 747-8 freighters in its fleet, as well as 14,777. FedEx (NYSE: FDX) has 51,777 freighters, according to its latest quarterly report. The private company Kalitta Air operates four 777s. DHL Express has 19 777s in its fleet, according to Planespotters.
United Airlines (NASDAQ: LAU) also has a large 777 fleet that has helped the carrier generate record freight revenue during the pandemic as it strives to restore full passenger service.
It is not immediately clear whether the carriers will face any tangible operational issues. Spokespersons for Atlas, FedEx and UPS directed all 5G inquiries to Airlines for America, an industry lobby group that declined to comment on the new airworthiness directive.
The three carriers could collectively experience up to 10,800 flight delays, diversions or cancellations per year at a cost of $800 million if 5G is rolled out without mitigations, the association said several weeks ago.
Radio altimeters are instruments that send signals to accurately measure distance on the ground or water and relay the information to multiple on-board systems. Overlapping signals can degrade its function, say aviation experts.
AT&T and Verizon launched fifth-generation (5G) wireless broadband service in 46 markets on January 19 using C-band radio spectrum frequencies, but delayed activating base stations near airports after the airline industry warned the White House of potential flight delays. and cancellations to maintain security.
Since the deal, the FAA has cleared more than three-quarters of the US commercial fleet for low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies have deployed 5G towers, saying they weren’t vulnerable to interference . A new 2-mile security buffer around airports in 5G markets has further increased the number of airports available to aircraft with previously authorized altimeters.
The FAA issued the new airworthiness directive after an assessment by Boeing that many systems on the 747-8 and 777, including the autothrottle, ground proximity warning, and thrust reversers, rely on the altimeter. The assessment followed an FAA directive in December calling for precautions in low visibility conditions.
The Directive does not apply to landings at airports where the FAA has determined that it is safe to land with approved altimeters in the 5G C-band environment. This also does not apply to airports where 5G is not deployed.
Boeing 747-8 and 777 operators may seek approval to use other methods of compliance, such as altimeter pattern approval. Newer altimeters have a narrower receiving cone, so their signals aren’t as likely to be deflected by other frequencies, aerospace engineers say.
The FAA said Jan. 20 that it is “working diligently to determine which altimeters are reliable and accurate where 5G is deployed in the United States.” We expect some altimeters to be too sensitive to 5G interference. »
The 5G Airworthiness Directive for the 747 and 777 will be officially published Thursday in the Federal Register.
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