FAA’s Dickson Calls For Stronger Aviation, Telecom Collaboration

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson addresses an RTCA virtual fireside chat.
Credit: RTCA

WASHINGTON—The aviation and telecommunications industries need a “stronger, more systemic” means of collaboration to prevent conflicts over potential interference from new 5G wireless networks, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said.

Dickson remarked on the nationwide 5G roll-out during a Jan. 19 virtual “fireside chat” hosted by standards organization RTCA. The event coincided with the start of 5G C-band network services by AT&T and Verizon, which a day earlier agreed to delay deploying their services within a 2 mi. radius of certain airport runways at the request of major U.S. airlines.

The latest agreement represents a further concession by the wireless carriers, who had originally planned to launch their 5G C-band networks on Dec. 5, 2021, then postponed the date to Jan. 5, then again to Jan. 19 under mounting pressure from the aviation industry and after intensive negotiations brokered by the White House. The initial wireless rollout covers 46 markets in 32 states.

“We want to make sure that aviation and 5G can safely co-exist,” Dickson said. “The bottom line is we need to build stronger, more systemic and predictable ways to collaborate together.”

He added: “The telecommunications companies—we’re not their regulator. [O]ver the last couple of months, we understand each other much better than we did before and we’re working very effectively together. We want to enable 5G C-band deployment, make no mistake about that. But we’ve got to do it in a way so that aviation safety is not compromised. There’s a way to do that; it just requires engagement and collaboration. I’m optimistic that we will be able to achieve that.”

The FAA and aviation industry groups are concerned that 5G C-band wireless transmissions could cause interference with aircraft radio altimeters operating at 4200-4400 MHz. The new 5G C-band services will use the frequency range 3.7-3.98 GHz (3700-3900 MHz); the initial “guard band,” or gap, with the lower end of the radio altimeter band is 400 MHz, reducing to 220 MHz in 2023.

As a safeguard against potential interference, the FAA has issued airworthiness directives that prohibit airliner and helicopter pilots from conducting certain approach and landing procedures that require data from radio altimeters when in the presence of 5G C-band transmissions.

“In aviation, airlines and manufacturers have to share their information with the FAA,” Dickson said. “We’re making decisions on risk based on being very tightly integrated in what we’re looking at. It’s taken some time to get everybody comfortable with that, but we’ve made a lot of progress in a very short period of time.”

In the future, he said, “we’ll be guided by safety, but we also want to understand the data from the telecom industry so that we can apply it to the aviation safety construct and understand how we can work together to both create opportunities for them but also make sure that the safety of the traveling public is achieved at the same time.”

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.


1 Comment
DUH! Where was the FAA when the 5G issue was raised?