The US government’s top aviation official updated politicians on work to address interference from C-Band 5G networks with aircraft altimeters, an issue the head of one airline industry group claimed had been disastrous for smaller companies.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Steve Dickson told a Congressional subcommittee there are concerns about the potential impact of passengers using 5G-enabled devices during landings, noting any demand-fuelled hike in power levels at towers could increase interference with altimeters.

The civil servant praised the mobile industry’s readiness to share data, but noted “we have to prove to ourselves there is no hazard”.

Dickson’s conciliatory tone was not echoed by Faye Malarkey Black, president and CEO of the Regional Airline Association.

She told the subcommittee restrictions on low-visibility landings, which rely on altimeters, had proved “disastrous” for smaller airlines.

Dickson said data collected from the mobile industry will “inform recommendations for modifications” to current altimeters or specifications for new equipment.

Dennis Roberson, president and CEO of consultancy Roberson and Associates, offered independent technical expertise, explaining the potential for interference exists even though there is a gap between the C-Band and the frequencies used by aircraft altimeters.

Older equipment is especially hard hit by this potential interference: “These receivers are sensitive to transmissions from far outside their assigned bands”, Roberson noted.

Wireless industry association CTIA president and CEO Meredith Atwell Baker told the subcommittee 5G and aviation can safely co-exist, and highlighted the next-generation technology’s potential to help close the nation’s digital divide.

Dickson argued the FAA and the Department of Defence need to be more involved in future spectrum auctions, noting his agency had attempted to halt the C-Band sale due to the interference issue.

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