FCC under pressure from airlines, FAA to halt rollout of 5G wireless technology near airports

Wireless industry trade group counters that 5G networks using same spectrum band work safely across the globe.

Updated: December 31, 2021 - 6:38pm

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Federal agencies are divided on whether 5G cellular technology rollout near airports is a threat to aviation equipment, with each siding with its own regulated industry.

Trade group Airlines for America filed an emergency petition Thursday with the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to halt the pending launch of 5G networks near airports in what's known as the C-band. Wireless carriers already delayed the launch from Dec. 5 to Jan. 5 in light of the dispute.

"The FAA – the federal agency principally responsible for aviation safety – has now issued an Airworthiness Directive that concluded that an unsafe condition is likely to exist or develop in transport and commuter category airplane because of the interference impact of new 3.7 GHz license service on radio altimeters" that gauge distance between planes and the ground.

"Aircraft will not be able to rely on radio altimeters for numerous flight procedures and thus will not be able to land at certain airports," said the group, which represents 10 passenger and cargo airlines.

That FAA alert Dec. 23 laid out a process for issuing specific restrictions on flights to mitigate a predicted "wide range" of malfunctions on aircraft safety devices, Bloomberg News reported.

CTIA, which represents wireless carriers, shot back that its members had already pledged to reduce the power level in new rollouts in the first few months, but insisted the C-band was not causing problems in the nearly 40 countries where it's actively used. It called the airline trade group's claims "meritless."