FAA Codifies Staff Roles On 5G-Focused Team

5G tower and airplane
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WASHINGTON—The FAA has formally designated several internal staff roles to support the agency’s effort to coordinate with other aviation stakeholders and telecommunications industry counterparts as part of work being done to minimize the safety risk of new 5G C-band service.

Billy Nolen, the agency’s top safety official, is the 5G team’s “executive sponsor,” according to an internal FAA memo seen by Aviation Week. 

The memo, sent by Aircraft Certification Service (AIR) Executive Director Earl Lawrence to his staff, said that Tom Sciortino, deputy director of AIR’s compliance and airworthiness division, will be AIR’s designated representative on the team.

“Because of the tremendous effort that continues on this subject,” AIR will tap another staffer, Derek Morgan, to serve as interim deputy director and “assure our continued commitment to many non-5G AIR business goals,” Lawrence wrote.

The announcement codifies a process that has been in place for several months, dating back to the ramp-up of the new 5G services that launched Jan. 19, a source with knowledge of the FAA’s efforts told Aviation Week.

The agency declined to comment on the memo.

“An FAA team has been working on the 5G issue for several years,” the FAA said in a statement. “We are meeting regularly with the telecom companies and aviation stakeholders.”

The FAA’s work on 5G issues has focused on clearing commercial aircraft and radio/radar altimeters to fly near newly activated AT&T and Verizon Wireless transmitters. More recently, it has refined its safety analysis process that determines how much buffer is needed to ensure safe flight. The process is expected to continue for months, with specific attention paid to clearing general aviation aircraft not part of the initial approval process, analyzing the potential risk of each new transmitter that comes online as part of the 5G C-band services, and updating alternate means of compliance approvals as necessary.

The FAA’s tasks may include work to develop new altimeter standards—a process that FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told lawmakers in a recent hearing would likely take a year or two. The FAA recently began flight tests aimed at both near-term challenges of clearing current aircraft and transmitters using site-specific data being provided by telecommunications companies and compiling data for new standards.

“We’re finally getting the specific detailed information that we need to make accurate safety assessments,” Dickson told lawmakers. “The wireless companies again, I think they’ve learned a lot about aviation safety, and we’ve certainly learned about their business. We’re asking them for data that they’ve never had to provide to the government before.”

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.