Regional Airline Association Response to FAA on 5G

Washington, D.C. – June 17, 2022 – The Regional Airline Association is disappointed with the Federal Aviation Administration’s latest directives, deadlines, correspondence and public commentary surrounding 5G telecommunications interference affecting aircraft.

In this recent messaging, FAA has reassured telecom companies they will be able to relax the mitigations that have provided partial solutions thus far while pressuring airlines to meet implausible deadlines that would not have been necessary should government agencies worked together constructively from the start.

Despite approaching FAA with our concerns regarding potential 5G interference to regional aircraft, developments at the fourth in a series of roundtable meetings with FAA have left us disappointed and alarmed at the FAA’s latest directive to airlines concerning the proposed deadline to mitigate 5G telecommunications interference affecting 950 additional CRJ regional aircraft.

RAA and other stakeholders have warned that regional airlines and passengers in smaller communities have been excluded from meaningful solutions since 5G went live. Recently, the Agency has offered that the solution should be requiring all aircraft to modify their aircraft by July 2023 and requires operators of regional aircraft experiencing significant interference by the end of 2022.

Airlines have indeed begun work toward these ends, but significant concerns remain. FAA notes an objective of identifying certain airports around which 5G service can be “enhanced” with the least risk of disrupting flight schedules. However, the Agency has not provided sufficient clarity on this point beyond an anticipated use of historical traffic and weather patterns.

RAA CEO Faye Malarkey Black noted: “We are concerned that this will lead to further marginalization of regional airports, which continue to require reliable air service.” Black continued: “Flight delays do not inconvenience an impacted passenger any less when they occur at airports with lower traffic levels.”

Most recently, FAA announced the ultimate deadline for retrofitting all fleets of all airlines will be July 2023, when telecoms intend to grow their networks and increase power levels to 62db. After this time, little is known about the intended path forward. This acceleration in the timeline and expansion to include all aircraft retrofits heightens questions on the practicality of these directives. FAA notes that these kits can be installed “in a few hours at airline maintenance facilities,” which greatly downplays the complexity of retrofitting this safety-sensitive equipment.

For regional airlines safety of operations is of the highest importance and this will not be compromised to appease the desires of the 5G telecom providers. We ask that FAA support our quest for safe operations and going forward, in addition to placing aviation first, provide an open process that allows industry to collaborate in the decision-making process when it comes to 5G developments.

As we have warned from the beginning, commercial airline altimeters are not broken; they are working exactly as they were designed and certified to work. The new signal interference is the change. Nonetheless, airlines have begun making costly retrofits to overcome the new interference. However, after this current extensive round of modifications, it is not clear if these modifications will even allow access to all airports in IFR conditions once additional telecom providers enter the market later this year. We additionally have no assurance that future expansion and signal amplification will not force additional – perhaps multiple – costly and disruptive modification cycles.

Black stated: “Airlines are being asked to shoulder the blame for a process that should have been foreseen years ago before telecom expanded into aviation used spectrum. Our government partners should not deflect shortfalls in interagency coordination onto the airline industry.”

Airlines will press ahead with 5G updates to aircraft, but reminds the Agency that supply chain issues impact every corner of the globe today. FAA must to approach the issue with the paramount objective of ensuring safe and reliable air service may be upheld and that its proposed solutions are reasonable and feasible.