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Radar-Altimeter Concerns Linger as 5G Roll-Out Looms

FAA Boss Urges Hustle

In a bid to avoid potential disruptions in air-travel, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has urged the chief executives of major U.S. airlines to expediently address risks posed by the imminent roll-out of nationwide, 5G wireless networks.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a letter that AT&T and Verizon—after previously delaying plans to do so—are looking to boost C-Band 5G services around some airports by July. 

Concerns that the 5G service could interfere with radio-altimeters led to disruptions at some U.S. airports earlier this year.

Nolen urged airlines to step-up efforts to retrofit aircraft with newer radio-altimeters, saying: “There are no guarantees that all large markets will retain the current [5G] safeguards.” He warned that as wireless carriers boost signals, some “less capable aircraft” may be unable to access certain airports without altimeter retrofits.

Susceptibility to C-Band 5G signals is a characteristic of older, RF-filter-equipped radio-altimeters. Such devices lack protection from neighboring frequency bands. The conflation of general aircraft capability and 5G susceptibility is apocryphal.   

On 17 January 2022, Airlines CEOs warned that 5G deployment would precipitate a “catastrophic” aviation crisis that would see the majority of commercial air-traffic grounded. 

Under pressure from the White House, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their respective 5G roll-outs  through 05 July. The telecommunications giants subsequently enabled some wireless towers while powering-down those near airports.


The FAA states it is in the early stages of working with AT&T and Verizon to identify markets where either a new tower or an increase in signal power will cause the least disruption. Compliant tenors notwithstanding, Verizon and AT&T plan to pursue a full rollout of their networks by the end of 2023.”

Aviation industry officials, meanwhile, have identified a pathway to retrofit the most vulnerable radio altimeters by the end of 2022.

In addition to AT&T and Verizon, another 19 telecommunication companies are expected to enter the 5G market during that time-frame. Nolen expressed the hope that those companies would weigh their plans and potential profits against the lives of millions of air-travelers. 

Verizon asserted that it was working with the FAA, Federal Communications Commission, and aviation industry, and was confident it would achieve “robust deployment of C-Band without significant disruptions to the traveling public.”

Airlines for America, an industry trade-group representing American, Delta, and United Airlines, among others, put forth that the industry recognized the need to implement a permanent solution, while continuing to ensure the highest level of safety.

AT&T did not comment.

Some airlines have raised concerns about footing the bill to retrofit altimeters only to face paying for a replacement in a few years.

Nolen posited that in the absence of FCC action capping EM transmissions at current power levels, additional disruptions remain likely. 

FMI: www.faa.gov/5g


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