Airbus Issues Alert To Pilots Of 5G Failure Modes. It’s Terrifying.

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The rollout of  5G cellular phone service has started affecting operations around the country—a terrific story in The Air Current by Jon Ostrower detailed the confusion at Palm Beach International yesterday, writing, “The aircraft’s radar altitude abruptly ran down to zero, causing repeated loud aural warnings: PULL UP WHOOP WHOOP DON’T SINK TOO LOW GEAR. The flight landed without incident in good weather, but it wasn’t the first time. ‘Exact same location multiple times the past two weeks,’ the pilot, who was on the flight deck for both anomalies, told The Air Current.”

And now Airbus has issued guidance to pilots that details the many things that could go wrong with their planes’ systems if the radar altimeter, built into a handful of systems, including Autoland and Ground Proximity Warning Systems, were to get erroneous readings.

To summarize the findings, the systems might give what Airbus calls “erroneous” readings and callouts, many of them during the most critical phases of flight, including several phases of flight on or close to the runway.

The following is guidance to Airbus pilots from the manufacturer. This is not for guidance, and we have printed it verbatim without correction:

Observed impact on A320Family/A330/A340 Systems with 5G Emissions Beyond RTCA Limits

RCA LIMITS

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Flight Instruments (PFD, HUD, Callouts)

  • The A height indication on the PFDs and HUDs may be inconsistent alongside with untimely RA callouts (unusual or untimely sequence of RA audio messages and/or indications: e.g abrupt decrease in height or erratic sequence)
  • Untimely MINIMUM callout may occur (if RADIO Decision Height is selected in the FMS)
  • The AUTOLAND warning light may flash
  • The Ground Reference on the PFD altitude scale may be erroneous.

Auto Flight System (AFS)

  • For A320Family NEO, during TakeOff or Go-Around, the tail strike protection may br inoperative or operate prematurely. However the pilot retains full authority on the pitch control.
  • THS may freeze due to untimely activation of the Flare law: In the event of a Go-Around, the pilot may temporarily need additional sidestick input as the auto-trim function is inhibited by flare law mode
  • During autoland, very small pitch oscillations may be observed in FLARE mode.
  • Untimely RETARD callouts may occur
  • With AP engaged, LAND / FLARE / THR IDLE modes may untimely/early engage.

Note: As per Airbus design, when AP is OFF the pilot retains full authority on thrust reduction (automatic engagement of RETARD mode is inhibited)

Surveillance Systems

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  • Untimely GPWS / TAWS alerts may occur
  • Windshear detection systems (predictive and reactive) may be inoperative
  • Aural TCAS alerts (“TRAFFIC” messages) may be inoperative.

BEG REV

  1. OBSERVED IMPACT ON A300/A310 SYSTEMS WITH 5G EMISSIONS BEYOND RTCA LIMITS

Flight Instruments (PFD, Callouts)

  • The RA height indication on the PFDs may be inconsistent alongside with untimely RA
  • callouts (unusual or untimely sequence of A audio messages and/or indications: e.g.
  • abrupt decrease in height or erratic sequence)
  • Untimely MINIMUM callout may occur (if RADIO Decision Height is selected in the FMS)
  • The AUTOLAND warning light may flash

Auto Flight System (AFS)

During autoland, very small pitch oscillations may be observed in FLARE mode

With AP engaged, LAND / FLARE / THR IDLE modes may untimely/early engage

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Surveillance

  • Untimely GPS / TAWS alerts may occur
  • Windshear detection systems (predictive and reactive) may be inoperative
  • Aural TCAS alerts (“TRAFFIC” messages) may be inoperative

Several readers have asked why aircraft in Europe, which rolled out 5G sometime ago, haven’t experienced such disruptions to safe operations, and the best explanation that we’ve seen is that the FCC gave permission to both Verizon and AT&T to use a slightly more expansive slice of the C Band that 5G employs than European cellular providers are granted.

This is a fast-developing story. We’ll keep you apprised.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

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