The aviation ministry is likely to hold discussions with industry stakeholders and the telecom department (DoT) before the launch of 5G mobile broadband services in India to deal with concerns over these airwaves potentially hindering airline operations across the country, two people with direct knowledge told Economic Times. “If there is a concern or issue that needs to be addressed, it will be done,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be named.

The move comes after Air India cancelled eight US-bound flights Wednesday amid widespread disruptions in air travel caused by concerns over the rollout of 5G services in the US and their impact on radar altimeters and auto-pilot systems. The airline resumed Boeing 777 operations to the country Thursday.

Technical Teams of Telcos to Examine Issue

The flights were resumed after Air India got approval from the US authorities, which allowed operation of the Boeing Model aeroplanes equipped with the Honeywell Aerospace ALA-52B radio altimeters to some airports. AI aircraft are equipped with Honeywell systems.

The US Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) recently warned that 5G signals in the C spectrum band – with band range from 3.3-4.2 GHz – could interfere with aircraft altimeter systems which typically operate in the nearby 4.2-4.4 GHz range.

While officials from the Indian telecom industry played down concerns of 5G signals interfering with the operations of airlines, an executive of a big telco said technical teams of domestic companies will shortly undertake comprehensive checks to examine any case of possible interference between 5G mobile signals in the C-band with aircraft systems. “The findings would be jointly communicated to DoT,” he said.

India plans to auction 5G spectrum around April-May in the run-up to the much awaited rollout of 5G services likely later this year, or early next year. C-band spectrum in the 3.3-3.67 GHz range for 5G services will also be put up for sale in the upcoming auctions.

A section of the local aviation industry, including the Federation of Indian Pilots, has voiced concerns over 5G mobile signals possibly impacting the operation of aircraft altimeters—crucial for landing in low-visibility conditions—and making air travel unsafe.

A senior executive at an airline’s operations department said the aviation regulator needs to find a solution. “A major systemic deficiency that has the potential to impact safety of flight operations is out in the open and India should find a solution,” the executive told ET.

India’s telcos, though, have strongly dismissed such fears, saying C-band spectrum has already been deployed for 5G services in key markets such as the EU, UK, Japan, South Korea, China and Australia without a hitch to air travel. They also pointed out that C-band airwaves have been safely deployed in local airport radar operations—at power levels far higher than those of 5G base stations—without hindering aircraft operations.

Another top industry executive said aircraft altimeter systems run on C-band airwaves from 4.2 GHz and above, and not 3.3-3.67 GHz spectrum that is proposed to be auctioned for 5G services in India.

The CTIA, a trade association representing the US wireless communications industry, in a recent note too has asserted that existing real-world deployments and careful study by industry and regulators across the globe verify that 5G operations in the C-band won’t cause harmful interference to aviation equipment operating above 4200 MHz.

“Nearly 40 countries across the globe have already adopted rules and begun launching 5G in the C-band at similar frequencies and none of these countries have reported any harmful interference with aviation equipment,” the US wireless communications industry association said in a recent note, a copy of which was seen by ET.

At press time, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea (Vi) did not respond to ET’s queries. Queries to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) also went unanswered.

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