FAA Wants US Airplanes to Be 5G-Safe by 2024

The agency may finally set a deadline for aircraft to get upgraded.

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David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
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A passenger jet flies over a cell signal tower.
Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The US Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it may require all passenger and cargo aircraft to have 5G-safe equipment by next year.

This would potentially end the years-long struggle between US carriers activating 5G mobile service in the C-band range and an aviation industry concerned that flights could be endangered by overlapping frequencies. Early in 2022, carriers agreed to temporarily block 5G signals around airports until July 2023 to give airlines time to upgrade their fleet's equipment. Now the FAA is proposing a directive that would require all aircraft carrying passengers or cargo to have their equipment upgraded by 2024, as Reuters first spotted. 

Aircraft need to upgrade to 5G C-band-tolerant radio altimeters, which operate on frequencies near the C-band range to help planes make low-visibility landings in inclement weather, or install an acceptable radio frequency filter. The directive would require aircraft operators to update their flight manuals to prohibit low-visibility landings after June 30, 2023, if planes haven't updated their equipment.

Over 90% of aircraft flying into and out of all major airports in the US have either had their old altimeters upgraded or verified as safe to fly amid 5G C-band signal, according to an FAA page tracking the issue. 

The directive will be open for public comments for 30 days after it's posted in the Federal Register.