Nov. 20, 2020

NBAA recently joined with a coalition of more than a dozen aviation organizations in a letter to congressional leadership expressing the industry’s significant concerns with the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) continued reallocation of certain frequency spectrums, utilized by critical aviation safety equipment, for flexible uses including 5G telecommunications applications.

Recently, the FCC moved to open a portion of the C-band frequency spectrum that “may introduce harmful radio frequency interference to radar altimeters currently operating in the globally-allocated 4.2-4.4 GHz aeronautical band,” according to the letter to bipartisan leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The letter cites results from a study conducted by a 5G Task Force established by RTCA (Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics) earlier this year that examined technical information supplied by the mobile wireless industry and radar altimeter manufacturers to assess the risk of interference to equipment operating near those frequencies.

“The results of this comprehensive study revealed a major risk that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band will cause harmful interference to radar altimeters on all types of civil aircraft,” the letter noted, adding that risk “has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States, including the possibility of catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations.”

Read the groups’ letter (PDF)

The proposed reallocation of those frequencies followed the FCC’s approval earlier this year of Ligado Networks’ proposed 5G high-speed broadband cellular network transmitting in the L-band, perilously close to frequencies used by GPS navigational equipment that form the foundation of the nation’s NextGen air transportation system, as well as satellite communications (satcom) networks.

NBAA Chief Operations Officer Steve Brown emphasized that aviation stakeholders recognize the benefits 5G presents to connecting our world. “Our concerns lie with how those plans are implemented,” he said. “It is readily apparent that current implementation strategies for 5G telecommunications networks pose multi-faceted complications to these critical aviation systems.

“We feel it’s time for Congress to intervene and ensure these important decisions are made with proper consideration of these unintended, though potentially deadly, consequences to our national aviation infrastructure,” Brown added.

In addition to NBAA and RTCA, other signatories to the letter are Aerospace Industries Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Aircraft Electronics Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, National Air Transportation Association, Helicopter Association International, Airborne Public Safety Association, Airlines for America, Air Line Pilots Association International, Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, Regional Airline Association and National Air Traffic Controllers Association.