U.S. air carriers warn on use of C-Band spectrum for 5G

Major U.S. air carriers warned plans by wireless carriers to use spectrum for 5G wireless services starting Jan. 5 could disrupt thousands of daily flights and cost air passengers $1.6 billion annually in delays.
Deutsche Telekom 5G networkAT&T and Verizon Communications must delay the plans to use C-Band spectrum for 5G services, United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby said following a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing, saying it could delay, divert or cancel about 4 percent of daily flights and impact hundreds of thousands of passengers.

The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raised concerns about potential interference of 5G with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters.

FAA issued new airworthiness directives warning that interference from 5G wireless spectrum could result in flight diversions, but did not quantify the impact.

Trade group Airlines for America (A4A) said that if the FAA 5G directive had been in effect in 2019, approximately 345,000 passenger flights, 32 million passengers, and 5,400 cargo flights would have been impacted in the form of delayed flights, diversions, or cancellations.

Southwest Airlines’ CEO Gary Kelly told the Senate hearing that if the FAA directive takes effect it would be a significant setback to its operations.

The wireless industry defended the technology.

The aviation industry’s fear relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact, CTIA, a wireless trade group, said.

It said that 5G operates safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation operations in nearly 40 countries around the world.

White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese met with Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the issue Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn at the hearing urged airlines to work with the wireless carriers to reach agreement.

Aviation industry groups said they were insufficient to address air safety concerns and have made a counterproposal.

A4A said the FAA directive would materially disrupt airline operations and said cargo operators estimate it would have cost them $400 million annually. The group said the annual impact cost to passengers to be approximately $1.59 billion of travel delays.

Wireless carriers have shown no interest in further delays to using the spectrum, which the industry paid more than $80 billion to acquire.

The FAA directives order revising airplane and helicopter flight manuals to prohibit some operations requiring radio altimeter data when in the presence of 5G C-Band wireless broadband signals.

The FAA plans to issue further notices to airlines before Jan. 5 offering more detail on the potential interference and is in discussion about which altimeters could be used under the current mitigation plans.