The 5G Drama Continues

There has been a lot of discussion on how the nationwide rollout of 5G cellular service in the U.S. will affect the aviation industry.

I’m writing this blog on January 18th — the day before the scheduled 5G rollout. 

Earlier today, major airline leaders warned of “catastrophic” disruptions of service due to the 5G rollout. Ironically, the airlines have already had near-catastrophic service disruptions due to winter storms and the effects the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has had on airline personnel. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow, January 19, as all these factors combine in what could be a “perfect storm” of airline service disruption.

As we have been following the upcoming rollout of 5G, I must admit I was focused on the airline industry because it was the one making the most noise. Most of the focus has been on how to mitigate 5G interference regarding aircraft operations at and in the vicinity of airports. However, the 5G rollout could have an even more severe impact on another aviation segment — helicopter operations. 

The Helicopter Association International (HAI) was one of the first to report that on Friday, January 14, the FAA issued more than 1,600 Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) regarding helicopter operation limitations within close proximity to 5G cell towers. These NOTAMs would impact helicopter operations like EMS, fire fighting and law enforcement. 

HAI successfully petitioned the FAA to allow exemptions for Part 119 certificate holders authorized to conduct helicopter air ambulance operations under Part 135, subpart L, allowing continued operations with radar altimeters that may not function normally due to 5G interference. The relief will also allow the use of night-vision goggles in air ambulance operations. These exemptions are contingent on certain conditions and limitations: “All pilots conducting operations under the exemption are required to receive and maintain a record of proper training. Additional conditions for NVG operations include the installation of a movable searchlight and a requirement for
pilots or crew members to establish radio contact with ground personnel
at a landing site so they can receive and confirm a description of the landing site.”

HAI has created a portal to collect information from operators affected by the FAA’s restrictions related to 5G deployment. You can visit the portal at HAI encourages operators to visit the portal to submit information about how 5G has negatively affected their ability to operate. The information gathered will help the FAA to measure the scope of the issues caused by 5G interference and, where possible, provide remedies through alternative methods of compliance (AMOCs).

In closing, I can’t help but think how ironic it would be if someone with a 5G enabled cell phone could contact emergency responders in the case of a medical emergency, only to have life-saving services disrupted by the same cell phone technology that allowed the call to take place in the first place.

Thanks for reading! – Joe Escobar