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EAA joins aviation industry request for 5G deadline extension

EAA this week joined companies from throughout the aviation industry in a letter to federal agencies, asking for more time to upgrade radar altimeters against possible 5G wireless signal interference, citing supply chain issues and other factors.

The letter was addressed to the National Economic Council, Commerce Department, DOT, FAA and NTIA and signed by a coalition of more than 20 companies and organizations. The letter noted that portions of the aviation industry whose planes need new or retrofitted altimeters to be able to operate in 5G zones will not be ready by the end of the year, as had initially been expected.

“Our industry is strongly supportive of the deployment and implementation of 5G services nationwide, but we will not compromise aviation safety. Since our conversations last winter, the FAA has verified that certain aircraft RAs (radio altimeters) are susceptible to interference from 5G signals with a subsequent degradation of safety,” the letter stated.

While the majority of EAA members do not operate with radar altimeters in their personal aircraft, those who do use them to ensure safe operation in IFR and other conditions. Airlines and air freight operations are the top users of that equipment, and a year ago predicted a significant percentage of the fleet would be grounded if accommodations were not made to upgrade equipment. That led to an agreement with AT&T and Verizon that set a July 2023 deadline for radar altimeter upgrades prior to the wireless carriers “powering up” their full 5G networks. AT&T and Verizon also implemented various mitigations, such as taking a phased approach to maintain lower power levels near airports and tilting antennas downward, and have agreed to continue those mitigations through July 2023.

However, supply chain issues with upgraded equipment and other factors have prevented air carriers and other operators from making the upgrades on time. At the same time, aviation groups and companies remain concerned that other wireless providers are not subject to the mitigations made by AT&T and Verizon, and could start full-power 5G operations near airports at any time.

“Stakeholders cannot do this alone and we need the federal government to codify mitigations for all airports and extend the July 2023 and “Power Up” retrofit deadlines,” the letter noted. “The entire government must work together to ensure future 5G deployment is unencumbered and our aviation system remains the safest in the world.”

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