No risk of 5G affecting NZ aircraft

A 5G tower recently upgraded in Highcliff Rd, in Dunedin. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A 5G tower recently upgraded in Highcliff Rd, in Dunedin. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Havoc at airports across the United States over concerns its 5G rollout could interfere with aircraft safety will not happen in New Zealand, the telecommunications industry says.

New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority issued a notification this week to raise awareness and to encourage reporting of potential safety issues caused by fifth generation mobile phone networks.

It comes as travel plans for thousands were disrupted in the US, as international carriers curtailed flights due to safety concerns about possible interference to aircraft navigation equipment caused by new 5G networks.

The concerns in the US are over fears interference from 5G signals risk disrupting radio altimeters, which determine an aircraft’s height above the ground.

Airlines are worried the rollout of new 5G networks this week could divert aircraft off-course and make take-offs and landings more risky, especially in poor weather conditions.

Telecommunications Forum chief executive Paul Brislen was confident New Zealand’s aviation safety would not be compromised by 5G transmitters.

New Zealand had a bigger buffer between frequencies used for 5G communications and radio altimeters compared with the US, Mr Brislen said.

In New Zealand 5G operated in the 3.5GHz band, between 3410 and 3800Mhz, while radio altimeters operated between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz.

The 400MHz buffer was "absolutely huge" and should be more than enough.

"You would have to have an incredibly powerful cellphone to cause any any trouble there."

He pointed to South Korea, France, and Japan, where 5G networks have been operational for several years without significant issues.

In the US, 5G is being introduced in a higher bandwith range, from 3.7GHz-3.98GHz, leaving a smaller buffer compared with New Zealand.

In a bulletin on 5G released on Monday, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety recently flagged nine reported radio altimeter malfunctions.

Most of the malfunctions occurred for a few seconds during critical stages of flight, though one lasted about a minute.

However, 5G interference was not confirmed as the cause of any of the malfunctions.

The CAA said it was monitoring the issue since it was flagged almost a year ago.

No reports or incidents of interference have been recorded in New Zealand.

Dunedin Airport has 5G coverage, but business development general manager Megan Crawford said it had not had any issues.

John Penna, of the Otago Aero Club, said the problem would mainly affect heavy aircraft, as most of the light aircraft used less sophisticated equipment.

oscar.francis@odt.co.nz

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