The Federal Aviation Administration’s fight against AT&T and Verizon’s new 5G rollout appears to be coming to an end, with the FAA allowing about 78% of US planes to land in low-visibility conditions. Airline CEOs are striking an optimistic tone, with one saying the process of ensuring airplane altimeters work in 5G zones is “really not that complicated”.
Over the past week, the FAA clearances announced for 13 altimeters which can filter 5G transmissions from C-band spectrum that is licensed to wireless carriers, representing those used by all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787 and MD-10 models/ -11; all Airbus A300, A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, A350 and A380 models; and a few Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets. More approvals will likely be announced soon, bringing the US one step closer to 100% capacity.
Unfortunately, there could be another showdown in about six months, when AT&T and Verizon lift temporary 5G restrictions around airports — we’ll talk about that later in this article. For now, airline CEOs seem content, though the FAA hasn’t said definitively that altimeters will continue to work after temporary 5G limits around airports are lifted.
No “material disruption in the future”
“It took a while to get to the right place, but I feel like we’re in the right place,” American Airlines’ Doug Parker said yesterday, according to a CNN Article. “I don’t think you’re going to see any hardware disruptions because of this.”
“While I wish this had happened sooner, the good news is that we now have everyone engaged, the FAA and DOT at the highest level, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and telecommunications” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “Although we don’t have a final resolution yet, I’m confident we will get there.”
“Technical experts working on it tell us it’s really not that complicated once they’re all able to share information and work on it,” Parker also said. “So they seem encouraged that we can solve this problem in a way that allows full deployment of 5G, including near airports. everyone is really comfortable that you’ll see anything that’s on near airports, because nobody wants to go through that again.”
These statements marked a sudden change, coming just three days after Parker and Kirby signed a letter claiming that 5G over C-band would cause “catastrophic disruption” to air travel.
FAA waited nearly two years to test altimeters
The biggest recent development is that the FAA finally launched an altimeter evaluation and approval process after claiming without evidence that 5G on the C-band spectrum (3.7 to 3.98 GHz) would disrupt altimeters that use the 4.2 GHz to 4.4 GHz spectrum. While the Federal Communications Commission created a 220 MHz guard band to protect aircraft equipment, poorly constructed altimeters may be unable to filter out transmissions from other spectrum bands.
The FAA has not begun its process of evaluating the actual altimeters used by aircraft after February 2020, when the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of C-band spectrum for 5G. The FAA also did not begin this evaluation process after the FCC auctioned spectrum to wireless carriers in February 2021. Instead, the FAA continued to argue that the rollout of 5G should be stuck long after operators have started preparing their equipment and towers to use C-band.
Harold Feld, a longtime telecommunications attorney and senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars Today that the FAA should have started rolling out the altimeter evaluation process shortly. after the FCC approved the use of spectrum for 5G – or, at the latest, shortly after the $81 billion spectrum auction.
“They spent their time questioning the whole thing,” Feld said. “It was reckless and reckless for the FAA to proceed without any type of plan B. Didn’t have the secretary [of Transportation Pete] Buttigieg personally intervened and the White House personally intervened and forced the FAA to put this process in place, so they still wouldn’t have done it on their own.”
The FCC has deemed C-band safe to use.
Nearly two years ago, the FCC found C-band spectrum to be safe to use, in part because T-Mobile showed that research on the airline industry has not sought to determine whether interference would occur in a realistic scenario. Still, the FCC has imposed power limits in the 220 MHz guardband, which is actually 400 MHz this year, because operators aren’t yet deploying to the upper end of their licensed spectrum. C-band spectrum is also used for 5G in about 40 other countries with no reported interference with altimeters.
“[W]well-designed equipment should not normally receive significant interference (let alone harmful interference) under these circumstances,” the FCC said when it approved 5G for use with the 220 MHz guardband. . The FCC also pointed out that the 220 MHz guardband “is double the minimum guardband requirement discussed in the initial comments from Boeing and the ASRC. [Aviation Spectrum Resources].”
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