Mobile phone carriers have agreed to another delay in rolling out some 5G service to prevent interference with airplane technology, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.
The FAA said the delay, for an additional year, will allow more time for the permanent fix: replacing or filtering the devices that measure an aircraft’s distance from the ground, called radar altimeters. The new technology’s promises include faster speeds, but aviation officials say the radio waves can be picked up in some cases by the radar altimeter.
The new timeline prompted concerns from major airlines and operators of regional jets, the latter of which would be subject to an even more aggressive end-of-2022 deadline. The Regional Airline Association said the FAA is “pressuring airlines to meet implausible deadlines.”
“Airlines are being asked to shoulder the blame for a process that should have been foreseen years ago before telecom expanded into aviation used spectrum,” RAA CEO Faye Malarkey Black said. “Our government partners should not deflect shortfalls in interagency coordination onto the airline industry.”
Airlines for America, a trade group that represents major airlines, wrote in a letter that “changes affecting avionics performance have always relied upon well-considered industry consensus standards, exhaustive testing and critical FAA certification oversight, often measured in years.”
“We have serious concerns that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has placed the burden on the aviation industry to act in a way that would previously be considered, by the FAA itself, to be reckless in the context of design changes to safety-critical avionics,” the letter reads.
The letter said safety would be “jeopardized by the rushed approach to avionics modifications amid pressure from the telecommunications companies.”
Spokesman Dan Stohr of the National Air Carriers Association, with members including budget airlines, said it would continue to “express our concerns and figure out a way to most safely get the planes equipped in the ways that we need to in order to safely operate.”
The FAA said the wireless carriers voluntarily offered the additional year delay. The timeline calls for retrofitting smaller regional jets “by the end of 2022” and larger jets by summer 2023.
An AT&T spokesperson told CNN that work in recent months has allowed it to develop “a more tailored approach to controlling signal strength around runways” for the C band, the portion of radio spectrum used for 5G.
“Though our FCC licenses allow us to fully deploy much-needed C-Band spectrum right now, we have chosen in good faith to implement these more tailored precautionary measures so that airlines have additional time to retrofit equipment,” the AT&T spokesperson said. “We appreciate the FAA’s support of this approach, and we will continue to work with the aviation community as we move toward the expiration of all such voluntary measures by next summer.”
Verizon executive vice president Craig Silliman told CNN it “will lift the voluntary limitations on our 5G network deployment around airports in a staged approach over the coming months meaning even more consumers and businesses will benefit from the tremendous capabilities of 5G technology. ”
“Today’s announcement identifies a path forward that will enable Verizon to make full use of our C-Band spectrum for 5G around airports on an accelerated and defined schedule,” Silliman said.
Industry and government officials have held a series of meetings on the matter this year, most recently on Friday.