HomeNewsHere’s How the FAA Is Working Around the 5G Network Interference Issues Near Airports

Here’s How the FAA Is Working Around the 5G Network Interference Issues Near Airports

by Jennifer Shea
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Over the past week, airline CEOs faced off against AT&T and Verizon on the issue of 5G deployment around airports. The airlines said the telecoms’ rollout of their new 5G service, planned for last Wednesday, would force them to ground much of their commercial fleet. The telecoms countered that the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have had two years to figure this out. And they noted that nearly 40 other countries have already made the transition to 5G seamlessly.

On Wednesday, AT&T and Verizon agreed to leave off their towers near certain airports voluntarily after Biden administration officials, alerted by the airlines to the looming shutdown of air travel, brokered a last-minute agreement.

One of the airlines’ chief worries concerned altimeters, the sensitive equipment that measures altitude and helps a plane to make low-visibility landings. The FAA had previously said that some altimeters would be thrown off by interference from AT&T’s and Verizon’s 5G service.  

Now the FAA has cleared seven additional altimeters for use on planes, Reuters reports. And that allowed it to approve 90 percent of the U.S. commercial aviation fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where 5G wireless has been deployed. The FAA has now cleared 20 total altimeters for use on airplanes.

5G Rollout Dispute Centers on C-Band Service

Both AT&T’s and Verizon’s 5G service use a C-band spectrum frequency that the companies bought for a combined $68.8 billion last year. The telecoms then spent an extra $15 billion on infrastructure.

The FAA has voiced alarm that 5G operating in the C-band spectrum frequency is too close to the frequency that altimeters use. They say it could interfere with the altimeters’ functioning and force them to ground planes in the interests of safety.

While the airlines have raised a fuss over AT&T and Verizon’s 5G rollout, T-Mobile has not yet experienced the same problems. That’s because its 5G service operates on a different frequency. The company does have C-band licenses that it plans to use in 2023.

Feb. 1 Deadline Still Looms

The telecoms are holding off on turning on some towers near airports. And the FAA is working furiously to clear commercial aircraft to make landings in inclement weather where 5G has been deployed. But some U.S. airlines remain concerned. Verizon plans to turn on more towers on Feb. 1. And airlines worry those towers might affect their operations.

Plus, on Tuesday, the FAA released an airworthiness directive about the Boeing 777 and 747-8 airplanes. It said interference may impact multiple airplane systems that use radio altimeter data. The FAA has approved alternative methods of compliance for those airplanes.

The aircraft models with cleared altimeters are all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 MD-10/-11; all Airbus (AIR.PA) A300, A310, A319, A220, A320, A321, A330, A340, A350 and A380; Embraer (EMBR3.SA) 120, 170 and 190 regional jets; all CL-600/CRJ regional jets; and DHC-8 and ATR turboprops.