The arrival of 5G C-band wireless on January 19 prompted some international airline flight cancellations and delays. General aviation operators that have radar altimeters also faced disruption, with no clear path to resolution yet in sight.
The FAA moved quickly to expand the list of aircraft-altimeter combinations approved for unrestricted operation in areas where the new 5G C-band transmitters prompted hundreds of notices to air missions that restricted the use of certain procedures at dozens of airports around the country.
While the FAA granted an exemption sought by Helicopter Association International that allows helicopter air ambulance operations to proceed in areas where 5G C-band signals are now present (including areas far from airports), that exemption requires certain mitigations (such as the use of ground personnel or night vision goggles) and does not apply to some of the same helicopters flown for missions such as executive transportation.
AOPA continues to work with a coalition of aviation stakeholders formed to promote a commonsense approach to 5G C-band implementation, a coalition that began advocating long before the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of wireless base stations operated in a frequency range that has been shown to interfere with radar altimeters, sensitive instruments used to accurately measure height from obstacles, or the ground. The C-band frequencies were auctioned to wireless carriers in December 2020, notably after the aviation coalition documented evidence that the devices could interfere with radar altimeters.
Now that the 5G C-band transmitters are (mostly) active, it will likely take time to approve business aircraft, and small GA aircraft if equipped, for unrestricted operation in a 5G environment. Some of the less powerful (and less expensive) models of radar altimeter used on smaller aircraft may never be cleared for unrestricted use in a 5G C-band environment. It remains to be seen how that will be resolved.
"The FCC could have performed this rollout in a safer manner with much less negative impact on aviation operations had they listened to the concerns raised by industry and the FAA from the beginning. We want to make sure that any future changes that impact the aviation system are performed in an effective manner and not just rolled out without fully considering and addressing identified risk and ensuring a safe system," said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Murray Huling. "We appreciate the FAA's methodical approach in addressing this issue and its prioritization of safety."