The FAA tentatively decided not to seek any additional 5G delays from AT&T and Verizon, perhaps putting an end to a struggle over the aviation industry’s unfounded assertion that 5G broadcasts on C-Band frequencies may interfere with aeroplane altimeters.
The pledge came late Monday night, when AT&T and Verizon agreed to a two-week delay in its rollout, pushing it back to January 19. They had agreed to a postponement from December 5 to January 5 earlier. The terms of Monday’s agreement were included in an attachment to a letter delivered to the carriers by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
“In light of the foregoing, and subject to any unforeseen aviation safety issues, DOT and FAA will not seek or demand any further delays of C-Band deployment,” the deal terms say.
Around airports, there are radio exclusion zones
Buttigieg expressed gratitude to the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon, saying, “Your voluntary agreement both to delay initial deployment by two weeks, and to subsequently adopt some additional mitigations, will give us additional time and space to reduce the impacts to commercial flights… We are confident that your voluntary steps will support the safe coexistence of 5G C-Band deployment and aviation activities .”
The agreement contains AT&T and Verizon’s previous voluntary agreements, such as six-month “C-Band radio exclusion zones” surrounding airports. Carriers will be given “a list of no more than 50 priority airports” where the exclusion zones will apply, according to the aviation industry.
Data on base stations, operating characteristics, and planned deployment sites will be provided by AT&T and Verizon. According to the agreement, they would “continue to work in good faith with aviation stakeholders to support the technical assessment of individual altimeters and airport environments.” The FAA previously stated that it “will safely expedite the approvals of Alternate Means of Compliance (AMOCs) for operators with high-performing radio altimeters to operate at those airports,” implying that airlines may already be employing altimeters compatible with C-Band transmissions.
Airlines have threatened to cancel thousands of flights
The C-Band spectrum licences that AT&T and Verizon have are for frequencies ranging from 3.7 to 3.98 GHz, although the firms don’t plan to install between 3.8 and 3.98 GHz until 2023. Radio altimeters that determine aeroplane altitudes use bandwidth between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz.
The C-Band is being used for 5G in approximately 40 nations, according to AT&T and Verizon, with no reports of altimeter interference. In a February 2020 judgement, the Federal Communications Commission found that the spectrum was safe to utilise for 5G. The FCC designated a 220 MHz guard band for altimeters, stating that “well-designed equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference) given these circumstances.”
Prior to Monday’s agreement, a trade group representing the country’s main airlines filed an emergency appeal with the FCC, requesting that C-Band deployment near airports be halted. The petition threatened legal action, claiming that the C-interference Band’s might cause airlines to “to divert or cancel thousands of flights every day.”
Buttigieg’s request for another delay was initially turned down by AT&T and Verizon, who stated that it “asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the US population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years.”
“No disruptions to air operations”
President Biden hailed the deal as “a significant step in the right direction” that “ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19th.”
Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s Chairwoman, stated that “agreement provides the framework and the certainty needed to achieve our shared goal of deploying 5G swiftly while ensuring air safety. It was made possible by the FCC, DOT, FAA, the wireless companies, and the aviation industry working together to share data, bring together technical experts, and collaborate in good faith to ensure the coexistence of wireless and aviation technologies.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, the FAA was “preparing to issue about 1,300 official notices that would include restrictions on pilots landing in bad weather starting on Wednesday.”
The FAA announced Monday that “The wireless companies have offered to implement a set of mitigations comparable to measures used in some European operating environments.” “While US standards and operating environments are unique, we believe this could substantially reduce the disruptions to air operations. These additional mitigations will be in place for six months around 50 airports identified as those with the greatest impact to the US aviation sector.”
The exclusion zones were designed after those used in France, which are 910 2100 metres. The carriers added “an additional 540 m on all four sides to accommodate” the higher power levels allowed in the US, calling this “one of the most conservative in the world.”
After July 5, there will be a full deployment around airports
Explaining the new agreement in a memo to employees, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg wrote, “We felt that it was the right thing to do for the flying public, which includes our customers and all of us, to give the FAA a little time to work out its issues with the aviation community and therefore avoid further inconveniencing passengers with additional flight delays.”
After July 5, assuming no new issues, AT&T and Verizon will be allowed to use their spectrum licences without any additional restrictions. “At the end of the commitment period specified in the Voluntary Commitments (i.e. through July 5, 2022), Licensees intend to deploy 5G base stations in any manner consistent with their C-Band Licenses, all customary rules and regulations, and any additional airport-specific mitigation measures Licensees have committed to take based on their continued engagement with the FAA and the aviation industry,” according to the agreement.