The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Monday that officials have a proposal in the works requiring passenger and cargo aircraft in the United States to have 5G-safe equipment by the beginning of 2024.
The agency told Reuters that such aircraft carriers would have to install 5G C-Band-tolerant radio altimeters or approved filters by next year amid concerns from the aerospace industry and the FAA that C-Band 5G — which relies on radio waves at 3.7 to 3.98 GHz — could interfere with flight safety technology such as radio altimeters that use a 4.2 to 4.4 GHz range.
Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said last year the agency believes it has identified a path for aviation and 5G C-band wireless to “safely co-exist.”
“[R]adio altimeters cannot be relied upon to perform their intended function if they experience interference from wireless broadband operations,” the FAA said, adding it would require “limitations prohibiting certain operations requiring radio altimeter data when in the presence of 5G C-Band interference.”
Aviation industry heads and 5G mobile carriers in the U.S. have been struggling to resolve the frequency overlap issue for years, which led to FAA officials blocking signals in temporary buffer zones last year at 50 different airports nationwide.
Airline leaders warned last year that a “catastrophic” aviation crisis could ground almost all traffic because of the 5G deployment.
Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) released a report in October 2020 that provided a clear indication “that the risk will be widespread and has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States, including the possibility of catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations.”
Reports earlier this year showed that 5G service may have interfered with airplane altimeters height data and landing attempts in inclement weather, which disrupted some U.S. airports.
Airplane flight manuals could be subject to revision under another proposal from the FAA to prohibit low-visibility landings after June 30 unless the airplane crews have already retrofitted such components.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and others, said, according to Reuters, that “carriers are working diligently to ensure fleets are equipped with compliant radio altimeters, but global supply chains continue to lag behind current demand. Any government deadline must consider this reality.”
According to the FAA, approximately 90% of aircraft accessing U.S. major airports have either updated their altimeters or received verification to fly amid the 5G C-band signal.
Wireless communications group CTIA told Reuters that “the FAA’s schedule for altimeter updates is reasonable and practical. 5G in the C-band co-exists safely with air traffic.”
CNET reported officials would open the directive for public comments for 30 days after posting it in the Federal Register.
The proposed directive would take effect in February 2024.
FAA officials proposed a similar directive in December 2021, which banned passenger and cargo flight operations near 5G C-Band wireless transmitters unless approved by the agency.