Exclusive: FAA urges airlines to act as wireless carriers planning to boost 5G signal

A Southwest commercial airliner flies over a cell phone tower as it approaches landing at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, United States, Jan. 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday urged the chief executives of major U.S. airlines to act quickly to address risks posed by the rollout of 5G wireless, in an effort to avoid potential disruptions at major airports from the next day. Month.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a letter reviewed by Reuters that AT&T (Tennessee) and Verizon (VZ.N) It wants to boost C-Band 5G services around some airports starting in July after delaying its earlier rollout.

Concerns that 5G service could interfere with aircraft altimeters, which give data about an aircraft’s height above the ground and are necessary to land in bad weather, led to disruptions at some US airports earlier this year.

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Nolen urged airlines to urgently move forward with the modification of wireless altimeters, saying “there are no guarantees that all large markets will keep the existing (guarantees).”

He warned that as wireless carriers boost signals, some “less capable aircraft” may not be able to reach some airports without retrofitting the altimeter.

Airlines chief executives had warned on January 17 of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis that could bring nearly all traffic to a standstill due to the rollout of 5G.

Under pressure from the White House, AT&T and Verizon agreed days later in January to delay until July 5 in operating some wireless towers and empty others near airports just hours before the planned January 19 deployment.

Nolen wrote on Wednesday that that date is “rapidly approaching.”

In recent months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has urged airlines to complete retrofits of some aircraft radio altimeters that may encounter interference from C-Band 5G wireless service by the end of 2022.

The FAA said it is in the early stages of working with AT&T and Verizon “to determine which markets the new tower or increased signal strength causes the least amount of disruption.”

In three recent rounds of talks, industry officials have set a path to retrofit the first two groups of aircraft with the more vulnerable radio altimeters by the end of 2022, Nolen said. Another round of talks is scheduled for Friday.

“We are working towards an equally robust schedule that would necessitate the completion of the third and largest group retrofits in 2023,” Nolen said.

“Given the current situation, Verizon and AT&T plan to pursue a full rollout of their networks by the end of 2023,” he added.

He added that another 19 companies “are expected to enter the market during this time frame, and we hope that they will employ some level of voluntary dilutions that have enabled us to advance so far.”

Verizon said it is working with the FAA, the FCC and the airline industry, and is confident it will achieve “robust C-Band deployment without significant disruption to the mobile public.”

Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing American Airlines (AAL.O)Delta Airlines (DAL.N)United Airlines (UAL.O) Others, he said, said the industry had recognized the need to “implement a durable solution, while still ensuring the highest level of safety”.

AT & T did not comment.

Some airlines have raised concerns about paying to modify the altimeters only to meet the payment for replacement within a few years.

“Without additional action by the FCC to limit transmissions at currently attainable power levels, the potential for additional outages remains, and we are not in a position to provide guarantees,” Nolen said.

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David Shepardson News. Editing by Richard Boleyn

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