NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A company operating medical helicopters in Middle Tennessee is sharing the concerns of many others in the aviation industry when it comes to the rollout of 5g service.
Air Methods partners with Vanderbilt University Medical Center for their Lifeflight operation. They operate the aircraft while VUMC is in charge of the medical side.
“With the 5g rollout, there’s a couple engineering studies that have determined that the 5g C band, which is a specific set of radio frequencies, has the potential to interfere with an instrument that’s in a lot of the aircraft today called a radar altimeter, or radio altimeter,” said Jason Quisling, Air Methods Vice President of Flight Operations. “It uses radio waves to give us a more precise vertical indication and identify exactly how far above the ground the aircraft is.”
He said the 5g impact is different for aeromedical operations. Their main concern is with nighttime operations because they use night vision goggles, and one of the requirements in the documents that allow them to use that equipment is having a radio altimeter that works.
“There are also a couple other places in the regulations that require both or I should say, either a operable radar altimeter, or the fact that all the equipment in the aircraft has to be in an operative state,” Quisling said. “So, when we have situations where this radio altimeter could be producing unreliable indications, that means that we’re in a little bit of a quandary about is that a broken instrument? Or is it just giving us temporarily bad information?”
He added that they rely on several other pieces of equipment in the aircraft to provide information so that they don’t have a single point of failure, but they certainly want access to reliable radio altimeter data from a safety perspective.
“As I mentioned, we use night vision goggles to operate at night. And what that does is it allows us to have visual contact with the surface and see things to some extent, almost as if it was daytime, obstacles, hazards, those types of things,” he said. “So there’s a tremendous safety and just having that visibility provided to the pilot, and the radio altimeter is really a backup or secondary indication to that. So losing it is not necessarily a significant issue for us. It’s information we’d like to have, but it can fall into that ‘nice to have’ category.”
He said their company, like many others in aviation, has been having conversations about the 5g impact for several months.
“The most difficult piece of this and probably the greatest frustration for all the parties involved is we just really don’t know how widespread the impact is going to be, where it’s going to have any impact on us, and when that’s going to happen,” Quisling said. “So, we have talked with the manufacturers of a lot of the equipment installed in our aircraft today. Many of them believe that they will not be affected or impacted by the interference from the C band on the 5g transmissions. However, we just don’t have the data to prove that that’s a 100 percent scenario.”
He said they’re working to make certain that they need to be prepared by providing training for all of their pilots to make sure that they fully understand what’s happening with the 5g rollout, what the issues are, and what to expect. They also wanted pilots to know what to do if they experience any interference or any problems with their instrumentation and how to report that back to the FAA, so that they can collect that information and figure out how to fix it.