Aviation Coalition Seeks To Delay 5G Deployment

radio altimeter installations
Credit: NBAA

A coalition of aviation industry groups is calling for further delay of 5G network deployments by telecommunications companies, warning of the potential of “significant disruptions” to passenger, cargo and special-mission helicopter flights over interference concerns.

The aviation coalition, led by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), issued the call on Dec. 8 after the FAA’s release of two airworthiness directives (AD) requiring fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft operators to prohibit certain flight operations that depend on radio altimeter data when in the vicinity of 5G wireless transmissions.

Without adequate technical mitigations, the groups warn, interference from 5G networks could cause delayed or canceled passenger flights and air cargo shipments and prevent first responders, the military and police from flying helicopter missions. 

The aviation and telecommunications industries in the last few weeks have made separate proposals to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to lessen feared interference from 5G transmissions. The jockeying to manage the network rollouts follows the FCC’s December 2020 auction of spectrum in the C-band at 3.7-3.98 GHz (3700-3980 MHz), within 220 MHz of the operating range of radio altimeters at 4200-4400 MHz.

Telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon, among the winning bidders in the $81 billion spectrum auction, have voluntarily agreed to pause their C-band network deployments by one month until Jan. 5, 2022. In November, the companies submitted a proposal to the FCC to mitigate potential interference problems with radar altimeters, including by reducing the power level at 5G base stations around airports and heliports, for a period of six months.

The aviation industry coalition found the telecom proposal to be “insufficient” to protect aviation safety; it submitted a counter-proposal to the FCC on Dec. 6.

“Last month, AT&T and Verizon proposed to modestly reduce their 5G power levels in C-band at an undefined number of airports for six months,” the coalition states. “While appreciated, the mitigations proposed by AT&T and Verizon are inadequate and far too narrow to ensure the safety and economic vitality of the aviation industry and the millions of people traveling by air each year.”

In response to the FAA’s Dec. 7 release of AD 2021-23-12, which applies to transport- and commuter-category airplanes, and AD 2021-23-13, covering helicopters equipped with radio altimeters, the coalition urged the FCC to take further steps to prevent 5G interference.

“We appreciate the FAA’s efforts to find a safe solution for aviation and successful deployment of 5G,” the coalition stated. “While we are currently evaluating the airworthiness directives and preparing to fully abide by them to ensure that aviation operations remain safe, we also expect significant disruptions to the national aviation system due to the rollout of 5G technologies in the C-band unless the FCC acts to mitigate the concerns.” 

The organizations participating in the coalition are AIA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, Airlines for America, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, IATA, the National Air Carrier Association, the National Business Aviation Association, and the Regional Airline Association.


Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.