FAA chief warns airlines, again, about upcoming C-band deadline

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen sent a letter to the CEOs of major U.S. airlines related to the seemingly never-ending saga of 5G and how it might affect airplanes. The letter, which was seen by Reuters, said that AT&T and Verizon want to boost C-Band 5G services around some airports starting in early July.

The saga related to 5G and airplane altimeters began in earnest in December 2021 and has been ongoing ever since. Both AT&T and Verizon planned to begin rolling out their newly awarded C-band spectrum in late 2021. But at the last minute, the Federal Aviation Administration said that use of the spectrum around airports would be dangerous because it might cause problems with some altimeters on older aircraft.

An altimeter measures the height of the aircraft above terrain immediately below it. It’s especially important to pilots when visibility is low.

AT&T and Verizon agreed to a series of mitigation measures beginning in January. At last word, the wireless carriers had agreed to continue temporary mitigation measures around airports until July 5. But according to Reuters, the FAA is still working to establish an achievable timeframe to retrofit/replace radar altimeters in the U.S. fleet, making it sound as if the process could take quite a while.

Now that July 5 is fast approaching, the FAA acting chief has sent a letter to airline CEOs urging them to act quickly retrofitting radio altimeters, saying "there are no guarantees that all large markets will retain the current (safeguards)."

In the midst of this dispute, former FAA Administrator Steve Dickson stepped down in February, halfway through his term. His official reason for leaving was to spend more time with his family.

But he had been heavily criticized by the wireless industry for not anticipating, and dealing with, altimeter problems related to C-band.

William Webb, former Director at Ofcom, suggested that the U.S. aeronautical industry “is an irresponsible spectrum user.”

According to Reuters, another round of talks between the FAA and the wireless carriers is set for Friday.