From The Editor | January 13, 2022

FAA Issues Flight Notices As 5G Rollouts Stuck In Limbo

abby proch headshot

By Abby Proch, former editor


A week before the anticipated Jan. 19 rollout of enhanced 5G wireless services, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) has issued a historically high 1,462 flight notices detailing the potential interference 5G may have on aircraft altimeters. As reported by Bloomberg and Reuters, these notices, called notices to air missions or NOTAMs, were issued to areas around major airports and hospitals with medical helicopter operations. The NOTAMs were first issued after midnight, Jan. 13.

Last week, both Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay their much-anticipated 5G rollouts for another two weeks and restrict the placement of such cell towers near 50 U.S. airports over the next 6 months. As RF Globalnet has previously reported, many airline and aviation officials, both in the government and commercial sectors, claim that 5G will operate in the C-band much too close to airplane and helicopter altimeters and will cause interference, possibly resulting flight delays and cancellations. Telecom officials say otherwise and point to other global examples where the two techs exist closely without harm.

Bloomberg notes that one notice says planes landing at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago would not be allowed to use certain “low-visibility instrument landing procedures” without first getting safety approval from the instruments’ makers. Another notice prohibits helicopter landings at the Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, in poor visibility. On the flip side, some airport activities it had said would be problematic now are not.

The next move, theoretically, lies with the manufacturers in complying with or seeking exemptions from some the FAA’s new restrictions.

The issuance of nearly 1,500 NOTAMs is the latest in exchanges in warnings and comprises among the FAA, FCC, and their respective proponents and critics. On Jan. 7, the FAA compiled a list of 50 airports it says will have buffer zones from 5G cell towers to prevent any interference with flight navigation equipment. Just before that, Airlines For America (A4A) withdrew its emergency petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that asked it to uphold a stay on 5G rollouts near airports. That came just days after a slew of supporters — Aerospace Industries Association, Regional Airline Association, Air Line Pilots Association International — supported the stay with FCC filings of their own in the final days of 2021. A4A gave no reason for the withdrawal.

In its original filing, A4A contented that the FCC did not provide a resolution of the issue, even when afforded an additional month of time when wireless carriers postponed their rollout from Dec. 5, 2021 to Jan. 5, 2022. A4A contended in its filing that without a stay, “the airline industry will suffer irreparable harm” and the traveling public and American economy would lose billions of dollars.