FAA Threatens More 5G Disruptions


The FAA is threatening more 5G-related flight disruptions if federal communications officials don’t throttle the signals of smaller cellphone carriers around airports. In a letter obtained by Reuters sent last Friday, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen told the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that 5G remains an interference threat for some radar altimeters and unless the 19 other telecoms poised to launch their services follow the same limits as the majors, safety will be threatened. “The FAA would be forced to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public, raising the likelihood of flight disruptions across the United States,” Nolen wrote.

Verizon and AT&T agreed in June to a variety of restrictions and service delays to allow owners of aircraft with susceptible altimeters the chance to replace or modify them. Until then, Nolen said he can’t take the chance that unfettered access to 5G by the mall companies will interfere with the altimeters. The altimeter retrofitting won’t be finished until sometime in 2023. The FAA doesn’t have the authority to force compliance on the small carriers and it’s requesting the FCC make the order. None of the telecommunications officials responded to Reuters.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Why shouldn’t the owners of devices approved to operate on the previous spectrum assignments and standards be compensated for losses? Didn’t the government get huge checks when they auctioned off the rights to use the new spectrum?

    • Every Federal contract I’ve read says the purchaser is responsible for conducting an eyes open, thorough pre-buy inspection. Caveat emptor. If the bids failed to reflect risk of a KNOWN issue raising its potentially ugly head the new owners of the affected spectrum own their mistake.

  2. This will be ‘fixed’ when people die… and the lawsuits fly. The telecom people haven’t seen billion dollar lawsuits yet. They are doing something that they know could harm people… this could be criminal homicide, even if the FCC says, ‘Yea, you can use this frequency band’… you are also permitted to drive down a road… you just can not knowingly do something so dangerous that it kills someone.
    Your cell phone bills will cost as much as flying soon enough… as an Airways Systems Specialist and microwave tech I plan to get rich as a courtroom advisor and professional witness in these cases.
    I hope I can afford a jet and an helicopter after these murders.

  3. Is this going to be like the 787 Max where blood gets spilled and then the congressional hearings etc parade folks in who appear contrite? How dangerous is this potential interference?

  4. It is outrageous that the FCC has taken no action to control or regulate the telecoms, who are allowed to create a clear and present danger to air safety and shift the burden of ameliorating it to the aviation community. A key part of the problem is that the FCC is an independent Federal agency, and is essentially unaccountable to the public. However, there is case law authority for the proposition that the President can act under Article II to rein in such agencies when they act contrary to the public interest, as the FCC is doing here. Biden should show leadership and take such action here to rectify this intolerable situation.