U.S. former officials urge ‘speedy’ resolution of 5G wireless aviation dispute

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.
FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

December 14, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Six former chairs of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday urged the Biden administration to quickly resolve a dispute over the planned use of 5G wireless spectrum that the aviation industry says poses an air safety risk.

Former FCC chairs Ajit Pai, Tom Wheeler, Julius Genachowski, Michael Copps, Michael Powell and Mignon Clyburn said in a joint letter they were “concerned” about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent efforts to revisit the FCC’s 2020 decision to allow use of the C-Band spectrum for wireless use.

The former officials said the agencies should work to “resolve the FAA’s concerns expeditiously, but this debate should not be fought publicly in a way that undermines consumer confidence in the process.”

Last week, the FAA warned that interference from 5G wireless spectrum could result in flight diversions.

Asked about the former FCC chairs’ letter, the FAA said Monday it continues “to work with federal agencies and the wireless companies so 5G C-band and aviation can safely co-exist.”

The aviation industry and the FAA have raised concerns about potential interference of 5G with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters. AT&T and Verizon Communications in November agreed to delay the commercial launch of C-band wireless service until Jan. 5 after the FAA raised concerns.

The FAA issued a pair of airworthiness directives ordering the revision of 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 remains in discussions with the FCC, White House and industry officials about the precise contours of any limitations, which are expected to be outlined in the coming weeks in a series of notices.

AT&T and Verizon on Nov. 24 said they would adopt precautionary measures for six months to limit interference. But aviation industry groups said they were insufficient to address air safety concerns.

(This story corrects from FCC to FAA in paragraph five)

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Aurora Ellis)