AT&T and Verizon will be increasing their 5G signals around the country with a plan approved by federal regulators, along with the telecom industry. Because the 5G band is adjacent to the slice of the spectrum used by radar altimeters, critical in several phases of flight to large airliners, there has been continued concern over the rollout of the next-gen cellular spectrum, which has been shown to interfere with the operation of many radar altimeters.
The plan, as reported in the Politico Transportation Newsletter, will mitigate potential radio interference to nearby aircraft by utilizing a phased approach to upgrading aircraft altimeters. The first group of aircraft destined for the altimeter upgrade are more than 1,700 Embraer and Airbus models. The goal is to have these aircraft upgraded with the retrofitted altimeters by year’s end. Originally, the deadline for switching on 5G nationwide was July 5, 2022, but the telecoms agreed to continue to “mitigate” the rollout for at least the next year.
To make the rollout workable, the FAA has ranked the aircraft/radar altimeter models from most susceptible to interference, to the least, which will determine what timeline those retrofits will fall into for the upgrade. Those retrofits, which include Radio Frequency filters, will also affect aircraft in regional jet service, where the upgrades will need to be completed prior to the end of 2023.
In addition to the ranking of the retrofit timeline, the announced agreement stated that the FAA, along with the telecom industry, identified certain airports that have the least risk of disrupting flight schedules, which will allow appropriate triaging, thereby prioritizing the upgrades and solidifying the final agreement.
The goal from all parties is to have robust 5G service while maintaining safe flight integrity. The belief is that the agreement in place will be well-positioned to meet those goals. We’ll keep you apprised on how it actually goes.