Federal regulators have said Verizon and AT&T will delay some 5G deployments near airports to give airlines more time to ensure equipment on planes is free from interference from wireless signals, but the airline industry is not happy with the deal.
Under pressure from telecommunications companies, federal regulators are taking a “rush approach” to replacing equipment on planes, an aviation industry trade group said.
Wireless companies agreed to delay some of their use of the C-band portion of the radio spectrum until July 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.
“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to allow aviation and 5G C-band wireless security to coexist,” said FAA Acting Administrator Billy Noren.
However, aviation groups say the C-band service could interfere with radio altimeters — devices used to measure aircraft’s height above the ground. When visibility is poor, pilots use altimeters to land in bad weather.
The planes most vulnerable to interference — smaller, so-called regional jets — must be fitted with filters or new altimeters by the end of the year, Noren said. Large aircraft retrofits used by major airlines should be available by July 2023, when wireless companies are expected to operate 5G networks “with minimal restrictions” in urban areas, he said.
American Airlines, the trade group for the largest U.S. airline, said the FAA had not approved the necessary upgrades and the manufacturer had not yet produced the parts.
“It is unclear whether operators can meet seemingly arbitrary deadlines,” Nicholas Calio, chief executive of the trade group, said in a letter to Nolen. “It would jeopardize safety and warn that airline services could be disrupted if replacement parts are not ready in time.
Verizon said the agreement would allow the company to lift its voluntary restrictions on 5G deployments around airports “in stages over the next few months.” AT&T said it agreed to take a “more tailored approach” to controlling signal strength near runways, giving airlines more time to retrofit equipment.
Friday’s developments are the latest in a long-running dispute between airlines and wireless companies and their respective regulators, the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission, which have determined that C-band service poses no risk to aircraft.
Last year, Verizon and AT&T spent $68 billion (approximately Rs 53,014 crore) in the FCC’s 5G spectrum auction. The companies started turning on the new 5G network in January but agreed to delay power supply to some towers for six months until July 5 due to concerns raised by the FAA and airlines.