FAA describes ‘productive discussions’ on C-band: report

U.S. aviation regulators report having “very productive discussions” with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the telecom industry over concerns about the impact from upcoming C-band deployments, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their C-band launches until January 5 while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation industry officials discuss coordination efforts with the FCC and wireless industry.

Even though the spectrum was cleared for “take-off” and an auction occurred, aviation groups earlier this month reiterated their concerns about potential interference from C-band signals with navigation electronics. That resulted in the FAA issuing a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB).

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told reporters on Tuesday that he’s confident the aviation industry can maintain its safety margins while allowing the 5G expansion sought by the telecom industry, Bloomberg reported.

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He also said that the FAA is looking at updating the standards for radio altimeters, which use signals to determine a plane’s altitude above the ground. Older altimeters are more prone to interference, and some engineering consultants have said that’s where the problem lies.

“There’s going to be new standards developed for radio altimeters,” Dickson said, according to the report. “What that looks like in terms of retrofits remains to be seen.”

The FCC completed its auction of C-band spectrum in the 3.7-3.98 GHz range in February. It had left a 220-megahertz guard band in place along with other rules after the aviation industry raised concerns, but that wasn’t enough to alleviate their concerns.

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Soon after AT&T and Verizon said they would delay their C-band deployments into January – a month later than originally intended – a group of aviation organizations asked the White House for a further, unspecified delay until “the safety and efficiency" of the National Airspace System (NAS) could be ensured. 

CTIA at that time said there was no scientific or engineering basis for further delay and that the wireless industry intends to launch the C-band service in January. CTIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FAA administrator’s statements this week.