Gee, There’s a Surprise

Matthew G. Saroff
4 min readJan 23, 2022

After FAA foot dragging on dealing with this issue, they have had years to deal with this, and the FCC not particularly interested in bailing the flight safety agency out, the airlines are faced with the cancellation of thousands of flights.

Well now, the the airlines are crying uncle, and saying that the activation of the frequencies in question won’t be a big problem.

Between this and the 737 MAX debacle, the Federal Aviation Administration is not looking good:

The Federal Aviation Administration’s fight against AT&T’s and Verizon’s new 5G deployment appears to be coming to a temporary close, with the FAA having cleared about 78 percent of US planes for landing in low-visibility conditions. Airline CEOs are striking an upbeat tone, with one saying the process of ensuring that airplane altimeters work in 5G areas is “really not that complicated.”

Over the past week, the FAA announced clearances for 13 altimeters that can filter out 5G transmissions from the C-band spectrum that is licensed to wireless operators, accounting for those used by all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, and MD-10/-11 models; all Airbus A300, A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, A350, and A380 models; and some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets. More approvals will presumably be announced soon, bringing the US closer to 100 percent capacity.

Unfortunately, there could be another showdown in about six months, when AT&T and Verizon lift temporary 5G restrictions around airports — we’ll cover that later in this article. For now, airline CEOs appear to be satisfied, even though the FAA hasn’t said definitively that altimeters will continue working after the temporary 5G limits around airports are lifted.

“It’s taken a while to get to the right spot, but I feel like we’re in the right spot,” American Airlines Doug Parker said yesterday, according to a CNN article. “I don’t think you’re going to see any material disruption going forward because of this.”

Translation, “This is what happens when your pet agency drops the ball, and no one is there to bail you out.”

………

These statements marked a sudden shift, coming just three days after Parker and Kirby signed a letter claiming that 5G on the C-band would cause “catastrophic disruption” to air travel.

Mandy Rice-Davies applies.*

The biggest recent development is that the FAA finally started a process to evaluate and approve altimeters after claiming without proof that 5G on C-Band spectrum (3.7 to 3.98 GHz) would disrupt altimeters that use spectrum from 4.2 GHz to 4.4 GHz. While the Federal Communications Commission created a 220 MHz guard band to protect airplane equipment, poorly built altimeters may be unable to filter out transmissions from other spectrum bands.

The FAA didn’t start its process of evaluating the actual altimeters used by airplanes after February 2020, when the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of C-Band spectrum for 5G. The FAA also didn’t start this evaluation process after the FCC auctioned off the spectrum to wireless carriers in February 2021. Instead, the FAA continued arguing that 5G deployment should be blocked long after carriers started preparing their equipment and towers to use the C-band.

Harold Feld, a long-time telecom attorney and senior VP of consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars today that the FAA should have started setting up the process to evaluate altimeters shortly after the FCC approved the use of the spectrum for 5G — or, at the very latest, shortly after the $81 billion spectrum auction went forward.

(Full disclosure: Mr. Feld is a family friend.)

The FAA needs to be fixed.

*Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Seriously, know your history.

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