Boeing and Airbus join FAA in calling for 5G rollout delays over interference fears

The two aircraft manufacturers join the fray to counter pro-5G parties like CTIA and the FCC.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

Aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus have now added their voice to the chorus of companies and federal regulators weighing in on growing tensions over 5G launches planned for the C-Band spectrum in the US. 

The battle over the deployment of 5G services on C-Band frequencies began as a conflict between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which approved the use of C-Band spectrum by telecom carriers, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which opposed the move over fears that the use of 5G device on that particular bit of airspace could interfere with the altimeters many planes use to enable automated landing procedures. 

Since the beginning of the conflict, a growing number of parties have chimed in, including wireless industry group CTIA. The group points to a document it published that claims to show numerous countries around the world already have 5G services deployed on the C-Band spectrum without any dangerous impacts on aircraft flying in their territories. The document was posted on the website CTIA created to tout the safety of 5G deployments. 

Despite AT&T and Verizon already having delayed planned 5G deployments over the conflict and the FAA's continued opposition, the FCC and CTIA remain staunch in their belief that C-Band use is safe for flight systems. Five former FCC leaders even authored an open letter supporting their stance and citing the ample investigations that informed the FCC's original approval of the spectrum's use. 

Now, it appears the FAA is calling in its own backers, as Reuters reports Boeing and Airbus have sided with the FAA. In a letter to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and Airbus Americas CEO Jeffrey Knittel both urged the Biden administration to support the continued delay of 5G rollouts by all involved carriers. 

The duo brought their own research as well, citing a study by the trade group Airlines for America (A4A), which claims to have found that 345,000 passenger flights and 5,400 cargo flights could have faced delays, diversions, or cancellations if C-Band 5G had been in operation during the calendar year 2019. 

While there are obviously multiple agendas at work in this conflict and many billions of dollars at stake, the regulators and companies involved appear to be at an impasse. As tension grows, it is increasingly unlikely that any amicable agreement will be reached by the delayed January 5 launch date for C-Band 5G that AT&T and Verizon had put forth. At this point, it remains unclear if the telecom operators will attempt to move forward despite FAA concerns or if they'll step back and allow the two federal regulators with a stake in the game to hash it out between them. 

In any case, as Reuters noted, the pilots, passengers, and potential 5G users that could benefit from C-Band deployments are caught in the middle. A representative from the Air Line Pilots Association was quoted by Reuters, calling the ongoing conflict a "big problem for passengers, shippers and the American economy." It's hard to disagree with that statement and even harder to predict exactly how this conflict will eventually be resolved. 

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