In January, a number of major US airlines warned of large travel disruptions and a number of international carriers even cancelled flights to the US out of safety concerns over the rollout of the 5G-network in the country. Network carriers, the FAA, airlines, manufacturers and even the White House seemed to point the finger to each other as who was to blame or should fix it. All the more reason monitoring the aviation safety system is essential.
This specific US issue stems from the rollout of the 5G-network and specifically from 5G-antennas close to airports. They were scheduled to be operational on January 19, however the FAA warned about a potential interference with altimeter radars. On January 13, the FAA issued 1,500 NOTAMs (affecting over 6.800 airplanes in the US alone) forbidding the use of altimeter radars at 50 US airports including the New York airports, Chicago O’Hare and Orlando. The problems lie with the deployment of the so called C-band 5G-networks, which operate in the 3.7-3.98 GHz block. Altimeter radars operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz block. According to the FAA this is too close to each other and could lead to interference and potential equipment failings.
In recent weeks, all stakeholders argued publicly about who is to blame for the problems. Airlines in the US urged the Biden-administration to immediately intervene. Network carriers blamed the FAA for incompetence, while the FAA is looking to the industry to implement equipment that does not have interference. In the meantime, the White House and the network carriers have come to an agreement to delay the rollout of the C-band 5G-networks until further notice. In a statement to CNN, the president of Emirates Sir Tim Clark, called it ‘one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible issue subjects I’ve seen in my aviation career’ because it involved both the government, as well as manufacturers, science and other parties.
This situation is just an example of how aviation safety consists of an entire ecosystem of stakeholders that are responsible. From governments to regulators, to the industry and airports to all other partners. And that independent monitoring of this ecosystem is key to make sure all stakeholders are doing everything they can to guarantee aviation safety. In the Netherlands, it has been initiated to monitor the entire system. This system monitor looks at the state of aviation safety around airports and the role of each stakeholder. It looks at the different elements within the system and could potentially produce a series of recommendations. We feel this is a welcoming step in furthering aviation safety. Any fears that it is going to be used as an enforcement tool, should be taken away immediately. Aviation safety is a concern to every party (and therefore the entire system) and any recommendation stemming from this system monitor should be promoting collaboration, rather than being punitive to any party.
When you ask people what aviation safety is to them, most will refer to the number of aviation accidents that have happened. Aviation safety however is not just that. It is about the safety of the entire system, as the rollout of 5G networks in the US has shown. Monitoring the entire system is critical. That is why in the Netherlands we have tools to just do that. Because aviation safety is a job for all stakeholders, together.
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