Verizon and AT&T near 5G deployment deadline near airports and planes are not ready, FAA warns

The Federal Aviation Administration has sent a warning letter to airlines that the deadline for Verizon or AT&T’s full-scale 5G buildout on the C-Band frequencies around airports is fast approaching and they need to speed up their respective adjustment measures.

On these newfangled frequencies that Verizon and AT&T bought boatloads of to continue their 5G network expansion, the outdoor antennas at or near airports may interfere with the altimeters used to establish a plane’s position relative to the ground. 

While there is much controversy surrounding the science and nature of the interference, the FAA imposed 5G buildout restrictions near airports out of an abundance of caution in coordination with the wireless carriers. The tentative deadline for lifting those agreed-on restriction fall on July 5, and Reuters has obtained the memo that the FAA chief sent to airlines on the matter.

There are no guarantees that all large markets will retain the current (safeguards),” he wrote, advising that the two most vulnerable categories of “less capable aircraft” should quickly install altimeter retrofits that would be able to withstand the C-Band deployment interference.

The third group of aircraft which is currently the largest, will have to retrofit their altimeters next year, since “as the situation stands, Verizon and AT&T plan to pursue a full rollout of their networks by the end of 2023.”

Needless to say, the airlines balk at spending extra for altimeter retrofits that may become obsolete with continuous network deployments, while Verizon and AT&T are working with the FAA and FCC to adjust their antenna locations, signal strength and direction away from the potential points of interference.

It is a process that is surely to remain controversial as the FAA’s Nolen Nolen advised that “without additional action by the FCC to cap transmissions at currently attainable power levels, the prospect of additional disruption remains and we are not in any position to offer assurances.”

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