In an unprecedented confrontation, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) have been facing off over the imminent implementation of 5-G C Band transmission sought by AT&T and Verizon for their telephones. The issue for FAA is radar altimeters installed in scores of aircraft types, including commercial airlines, some business jets, and many helicopters, including helicopter air ambulances. Radio altimeters supporting these systems operate between 4.2-4.4 GHz; C-Band 5-G operations will initially begin at around 3.7 GHz.

The concerns are not merely the delays and cancelled flights potentially caused by FAA’s issuance of over 1,500 Notices to Airmen (“NOTAM”), restricting use of instrument approaches and other procedures that rely on radar altimeters, principally in bad weather, but also increased weather minimums for Part 91 helicopter operations.
Apparently, the issues arose because of FCC’s refusal to honor repeated requests by FAA, and the affected airlines and helicopter operators, to delay 5-G C-Band implementation, originally licensed in 2021, long enough for aviation safety issues to be considered and resolved. FCC constituents AT&T and Verizon, those providers most immediately impacted by the 5-G C-Band activation eventually entered an agreement to delay activation to early January 2022, eventually extended to January 19. While FAA originally issued the NOTAMs in response, FAA subsequently cleared for use two radar altimeters used in some Boeing and Airbus jets. According to FAA this easing of restrictions will enable 45% of U.S. aircraft to make low visibility landings.

Today, January 18, however, finding no sufficient relief in FAA’s rescinding of the NOTAMs, the largest U.S. airlines are asking the Biden Administration to weigh in on the planned 5-G rollout near major airports, while discussions continue between airlines and the telecommunications industry. Absent relief from such high level arm twisting, airlines predict “the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will be grounded. That means on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions, or delays.”

Stay tuned for the climax of this “war of the words” as soon as tomorrow, January 19, 2022.