The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require airlines to replace or upgrade their radio altimeters on large commercial aircraft by July 2023 in order to protect against potential interference to aviation safety systems from the rollout of 5G near U.S. airports.
In its first statement on 5G use near airports since February, the FAA said that stakeholders in the aviation and wireless industries have “identified a series of steps that will continue to protect commercial air travel from disruption by 5G C-band interference while also enabling Verizon and AT&T to enhance service around certain airports”.
“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “We appreciate the willingness of Verizon and AT&T to continue this important and productive collaboration with the aviation industry.”
The phased approach requires operators of regional aircraft with radio altimeters most susceptible to interference to retrofit them with radio frequency filters by the end of 2022. This work has already begun and will continue on an expedited basis.
At the same time, the FAA worked with the wireless companies to identify airports around which their service can be enhanced with the least risk of disrupting flight schedules.
During initial negotiations in January, the wireless companies offered to keep mitigations in place until July 5, 2022, while they worked with the FAA to better understand the effects of 5G C-band signals on sensitive aviation instruments.
Based on progress achieved during a series of stakeholder roundtable meetings, the wireless companies offered Friday to continue with some level of voluntary mitigations for another year.
“We all agreed when we began these meetings that our goal was to make July 5, 2022, just another date on the calendar, and this plan makes that possible,” Nolen said.
Airlines and other operators of aircraft equipped with the affected radio altimeters must install filters or other enhancements as soon as possible.
Filters and replacement units for the mainline commercial fleet should be available on a schedule that would permit the work to be largely completed by July 2023. After that time, the wireless companies expect to operate their networks in urban areas with minimal restrictions.
The FAA says radio-altimeter manufacturers have worked at an unprecedented pace with Embraer, Boeing, Airbus and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop and test filters and installation kits for these aircraft. Customers are receiving the first kits now. In most cases, the kits can be installed in a few hours at airline maintenance facilities.
Throughout this process, the FAA will work with both industries to track the pace of the radio altimeter retrofits while also working with the wireless companies to relax mitigations around key airports in carefully considered phases.
The agency also will continue to engage with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission on technical issues associated with these efforts.
However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has expressed disappointment with the FAA’s 5G aircraft retrofit timetable.
“In contrast to the FAA statement, there is no consensus among impacted airlines that making the July 2023 deadline is possible, particularly given that the FAA has not yet approved solutions and the systems providers cannot guarantee availability of the new equipment within this time frame,” IATA said in a statement. “All parties are committed to safety, but ad hoc unilateral and unrealistic pronouncements will not achieve this goal. All stakeholders need to work together to define solutions and deadlines that reflect reality and preserve safety.”
Back in March, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure requested that the FAA provide bimonthly updates – beginning in April – on the agency’s ongoing 5G efforts and progress.