Congress takes up controversy over 5G service near airports

Feb 2, 2022, 7:24 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2022, 2:45 pm

FILE - Passenger flights land and take off at Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va.,...

FILE - Passenger flights land and take off at Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, Wed., Jan. 19, 2022. A congressional committee is looking into the controversy over the launch of new high-speed wireless service and whether it poses any threat to airline safety. A House committee on Thursday, Feb. 3, heard testimony from the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, airline groups and a trade group for telecommunications companies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Lawmakers wondered aloud Thursday how a showdown between two federal agencies over the rollout of new high-speed wireless service reached crisis proportions last month, but they were short on answers to a dispute that raised concerns about interference with key equipment on some planes.

Some flights have been canceled since Verizon and AT&T turned on their new networks last month, but predictions of widespread cancellations turned out to be wrong. The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared 90% of the nation’s airline fleet to land during poor visibility at airports near 5G cell towers.

Those approvals are being made each month, plane by plane, based on the model of radio altimeter that they use to measure their height above the ground. Some “lower-performing” planes are still restricted, and a permanent fix for the entire fleet is likely at least a year away, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said during a hearing of the House aviation subcommittee.

The CEOs of American Airlines and United Airlines have said they don’t expect any more disruptions. However, more than half of the planes operated by regional airlines remain restricted during bad weather, said Faye Malarkey Black, president of a trade group for the smaller carriers, some of which operate flights for American Eagle, United Express and Delta Connection.

Black said cancellations are still occurring, and more than one-fourth of flights at the three major airports in the New York City areas are operated by smaller planes that can’t land there during bad weather because of restrictions related to 5G.

Verizon and AT&T agreed to two delays before launching most of their planned new 5G service on Jan. 19 except near airports, where they agreed not to turn on new cell towers for the time being.

Dozens of flights were canceled because of 5G concerns after the services went live, but widespread cancellations were avoided.

The current, temporary fix came after the White House stepped in to settle a lack of cooperation between the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission that threatened to create massive disruptions for airlines and passengers.

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., told Dickson that FAA’s last-minute directives about operating around 5G indicates “that you really didn’t have a plan and didn’t understand the gravity of the situation ahead of time.”

Dickson said FAA couldn’t authorize low-visibility flights near the new signals until it got information from the telecom companies about the location, height and power of their 5G towers.

The FAA chief said regulators and experts from both industries are now working together. Last week, the FAA said that new data from the companies cleared the way for activating more towers close to airports.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., blamed the clash on the FCC, which approved plans by Verizon and AT&T to launch faster and more reliable 5G service using the C-Band part of the radio spectrum that is close to the range used by airplane altimeters, which are critical for landing in poor visibility.

DeFazio said he and aviation interests raised concerns about possible interference for several years, but the FCC ignored them and auctioned off 5G spectrum without ensuring there would be no interference with aviation.

“Having a dropped call is way less serious than having a dropped airplane,” he said.

The FCC has said it provided enough buffer between C-Band and radio altimeters to prevent interference.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel was invited to testify but had a conflict, according to an agency spokesman, who declined to describe the conflict. He said that Rosenworcel spoke separately on Wednesday with DeFazio and the chairman of the aviation subcommittee, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.

The FCC and the telecom companies say that 40 other countries have rolled out C-Band 5G service without any reports of radio interference with planes. Aviation groups say those countries have lower-power 5G signals or impose other restrictions on the service to prevent interference, a claim that is disputed by the telecom industry.

Meredith Baker, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said that an aviation group’s 2020 study that raised serious concern about interference was flawed and distorted by presenting worst-case scenarios.

DeFazio and Larsen countered that aviation safety requires considering even implausible events.

“That’s what we plan for — the worst case,” DeFazio said.


The FAA has a list of how the largest airports are affected, and other information about 5G: https://www.faa.gov/5g

David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - The U.S. Capitol is seen on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Congress ...

Associated Press

Government shutdown averted with little time to spare as Biden signs funding before midnight

The threat of a federal government shutdown suddenly lifted late Saturday as President Joe Biden signed a temporary funding bill to keep agencies open with little time to spare after Congress rushed to approve the bipartisan deal.

3 hours ago

tupac shakur...

Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter

Man tied to suspected shooter in Tupac Shakur’s 1996 killing arrested

Tupac Shakur was gunned down when he was 25. He was in a BMW driven by Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight.

2 days ago

Former NFL football player Michael Oher, whose story became the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated...

Associated Press

Judge to end conservatorship between ex-NFL player Michael Oher, Tenn. couple

A Tennessee judge said Friday she is ending a conservatorship agreement between former NFL player Michael Oher and a Memphis couple who took him in when he was in high school.

2 days ago

BRAZIL - 2023/09/26: In this photo illustration, the Microsoft Bing logo is displayed on a laptop s...

Associated Press

Apple leverages idea of switching to Bing to pry more money out of Google, Microsoft exec says

Apple was never serious about replacing Google with Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine in Macs and iPhones, but kept the possibility open as a "bargaining chip'' to extract bigger payments from Google

2 days ago

climate change...

Associated Press

2 lawsuits blame utility for eastern Washington fire that killed man and burned hundreds of homes

Two lawsuits have been filed against an electric utility for allegedly sparking a fire in eastern Washington that killed a man and burned approximately 240 homes.

3 days ago

Seattle non-profits...

Associated Press

Oregon man convicted of murder in fatal shooting of sheriff’s deputy in Washington state

A jury has convicted an Oregon man of murder in the fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy in Washington state.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Congress takes up controversy over 5G service near airports