As cancellations on flights from around the world to the United States began to multiply, Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have left carriers in a virtually impossible position with cryptic and nebulous warnings about 777 and 787 operations linked to the rollout of 5G technology.
Boeing, FAA Leave Airlines With More Questions Than Answers Concerning 777, 787 Operation
In a multi-operator message to carriers flying the 777 on Monday evening, Boeing “recommends operators do not operate 777 airplanes on approach and landing to U.S. runways.”
No wonder ANA, JAL, Air India, and Emirates cancelled flights to the USA.
And has Boeing bothered to even issue a press release or statement on Twitter to clarify this? Nope. It’s internal note to operators, as reviewed by The Air Current, notes:
“The above recommendation has been determined through the Boeing Safety Review Board and engineering pilot evaluation based on the uncertainty of the 5G operating environment. Boeing recommends that operators develop contingency plans for their operations.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has published a new airworthiness directive for all Boeing 787 aircraft (-8, -9, and -10 variants), noting that 5G interference
The directive explains:
The receiver on the radio altimeter is typically highly accurate, however it may deliver erroneous results in the presence of out- of-band radio frequency emissions from other frequency bands. The radio altimeter must detect faint signals reflected off the ground to measure altitude, in a manner similar to radar. Out-of-band signals could significantly degrade radio altimeter functions during critical phases of flight, if the altimeter is unable to sufficiently reject those signals.
Notice, however, that the warnings carry a “may” caveat, as no definitive evidence has yet to be shown that 5G actually interferes with aircraft altimeters. The directive continues:
Based on Boeing’s data, the FAA identified an additional hazard presented by 5G C-band interference on The Boeing Company Model 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10 airplanes. The FAA determined anomalies due to 5G C-Band interference may affect multiple other airplane systems using radio altimeter data, regardless of the approach type or weather. These anomalies may not be evident until very low altitudes. Impacted systems include, but are not limited to: autopilot flight director system; autothrottle system; engines; thrust reversers; flight controls; flight instruments; traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS); ground proximity warning system (GPWS); and configuration warnings.
Put simply: we don’t know but we’ll hedge our bets by saying 5G can significantly compromise 787 safety.
The directive can be summed up with this warning:
Therefore, the presence of 5G C-Band interference can result in degraded deceleration performance, increased landing distance, and runway excursion. This is an unsafe condition.
Hence not only the foreign cancellations but warnings from Delta Air Lines it may soon cancel flights and indeed United Airlines cancelling service and blaming it on the 5G rollout:
While this may be a story of U.S. federal government incompetence more so than a failure on the part of Boeing (or Airbus), concern about 5G interference with aircraft has existed for four years. It’s not like Boeing never had time to think about whether interference would disrupt flight altimeters on two of its best-selling aircraft. And the FAA’s lackadaisical response to this issue remains indefensible.
More so than anything, perhaps this tweet by Jon Ostrower sums up the problem:
This isn’t a Boeing or Airbus story, this is about seemingly needless regulatory chaos and a patchwork of approvals and restrictions that have few overarching consistensies outside of it being one gigantic mess and a massive unforced error.
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) January 19, 2022
But this is a Boeing and Airbus story too…this truly marks a collective failing. Even airlines knew this was coming and apparently failed to put sufficient pressure on regulators and aircraft manufactures to sort it out before it was proverbially too late.
The next few days will be interesting, as airlines from around the world try to figure out what guidance from the FAA and Boeing mean for 777 and 787 operations in a 5G world. Whatever the verdict, it is pie in the face for U.S. aviation regulators and another dark chapter in the history of U.S. aviation.