If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.

There’s been a lot going on in the legislative and regulatory arena for the vertical lift industry. We have an infrastructure bill moving through the US Congress that provides opportunities for us to invest in both infrastructure and workforce development. Unfortunately, our industry is also staring down the December 2021 deployment of 5G networks, which, as we’ll discuss, will destabilize current components of aviation safety.

Infrastructure Moves (Kind of)

At first, they said no way. Then, somehow, they did it. Yes, the US Senate actually passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Despite long odds, President Biden came away with a victory in the Senate.

Now the bill goes to the House, where it faces some complex dynamics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that the House wouldn’t vote on the infrastructure package until the Senate also passed a $3.5 trillion spending package. For those who love to watch political intrigue, this two-pronged legislative approach promises to provide interesting theater.

With the House insisting that both packages be addressed and an evenly divided Senate, we witnessed senators working together to find compromise and a path forward. Should we celebrate adults actually collaborating in a professional manner to get the job done that they were elected to do? Well, it’s Congress, so yes.

What’s important to note in this recent Senate vote is how different factions came together to achieve their goals. Did everyone get what they wanted? Absolutely not. But by working together, they all got something.

The infrastructure bill is still far from making its way to President Biden’s desk. It’ll take many twists and turns as it winds its way through the House and then goes to conference, where differences between the two chambers are hammered out.

HAI advocated for several aviation measures included in the Senate’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation includes the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Challenge Grant Program, which authorizes $100 million annual investments to cities over the next five years to conduct projects focused on advancing smart-city technologies that will improve transportation efficiency and safety. The bill also includes $500 million for general aviation airport funding and $5 billion for the FAA over the next five years to be used for towers and air traffic control facilities in the National Airspace System.

The infrastructure legislation also includes provisions from another piece of legislation, the Promoting Service in Transportation Act, which will build a more dynamic transportation workforce by promoting career opportunities in the transportation sector and advocating for more industry diversity through workforce outreach programs. There may be some additional opportunities in the House infrastructure bill to push other initiatives HAI has advocated for. Stay tuned!

Normally, in these articles, we highlight the legislative successes we’ve been able to achieve as an industry. We wanted to take a different approach this time and focus on why representation matters. As the famous saying goes, “If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.” And right now, there is a lot on the menu.

Congress is currently debating a $1 trillion infrastructure package, followed by a $3.5 trillion spending package. Legislators are raising policy questions and looking to trusted resources for information. As the trade association advocating for the vertical flight industry, HAI serves as that trusted resource, educating Congress on the economic and social importance of vertical flight and advocating for your interests.

We also need your voice to help raise awareness. Your elected officials need to hear directly from you to understand the issues your company faces and hear your proposed solutions.

Preventing Spectrum Interference

Another critical issue we would like to highlight is spectrum. This is another example of why HAI represents your interests before legislators and regulators, and why you need to speak out to protect your interests.

In the June 2021 edition of ROTOR, we provided an overview of the actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to repurpose spectrum adjacent to that used by some safety-related aviation equipment, creating these effects:

  • Interference with the L band, which is used by GPS units and satellite-to-ground communications
  • Interference with the C band, which is used by radar (radio) altimeters.

As we previously reported, both the Senate and the House introduced legislation, the RETAIN GPS and Satellite Communications Act (S. 2166 and H.R. 4634) to address the issue of L band–GPS interference. However, Congress hasn’t yet acted to prevent C band interference with radar altimeters.

Interference with Radar Altimeters

While HAI has long been working to develop actionable mitigations to radar altimeter interference, time is a luxury we no longer have. The deployment of 5G networks operating in C band frequencies next to those used by radar altimeters is expected to occur on Dec. 5, 2021.

HAI’s initial opposition efforts date back to 2017 when the FCC first released a notice of inquiry about repurposing C band spectrum. As you’ll see in the graphic below, we and other aviation stakeholders have been working to address that policy’s safety implications since that time.

Even though the FCC has proceeded with its plans, you shouldn’t assume that HAI’s efforts have been wasted. This is a regulatory issue involving multiple US government agencies. Turning that ship takes time, and more importantly, we had to first try every method of regulatory relief possible. During that time, we kept Congress informed. But before potential legislative remedies could be engaged, we needed to show our elected representatives that we were working through proper channels in a good-faith effort to arrive at a resolution with the FCC.

International Actions on Spectrum Interference

Spectrum interference, of course, doesn’t respect geographic boundaries, and HAI is addressing this issue on the international front as well.

In October 2020, the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), an organization that works with the FAA and global stakeholders to develop standards for aviation electronics, released a report confirming that spectrum interference with radar altimeters would be harmful to civil aircraft operations. Following the publication of this report, spectrum and aviation regulators around the world recognized the dangers that interference could pose to aircraft operations. Many acted quickly to both further refine the data and issue advisories.

Several countries and regions are now using the information provided in the RTCA report to further research the issue of spectrum interference. The European Confer­ence of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are collecting information directly from radar altimeter and aircraft manufacturers to further develop their studies.

Other countries, such as Japan and France, have already taken preventive measures to protect their national aviation operations. Additional international studies independent of the RTCA report performed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) show that interference with radar altimeters is possible, which prompted a letter from ICAO to states to investigate the issue further.

Transport Canada Civil Aviation, that country’s civil aviation regulator, released a regulatory proposal addressing the radio altimeter interference issue. The proposal explores various spectrum mitigations, including restrictions of 5G in the 3,450–3,650 MHz band near major and minor commercial airports. The document’s release initiated a 15-day technical consultation on proposed amendments to technical requirements for fixed and mobile systems operating in the band that can affect radar altimeters. Additional studies are underway in Canada and other countries to further assess the potential effects of radio altimeter interference from 5G systems.

The industry coalition Technical and Operations Working Group, co-chaired by HAI, is evaluating Canada’s regulatory proposal alongside other ­international guidance to conduct further research on options to mitigate spectrum interference.

HAI’s Proposed Solutions

The aviation coalition has petitioned the FCC to reconsider its decision to repurpose C band spectrum. However, the reality is that 5G deployment is coming, and there’s little to no chance of preventing its Dec. 5 deployment. The fight now is to ensure it’s done in a way that protects aviation safety.

The FCC should, at a minimum, partner with the FAA to jointly oversee a forum where the telecommunications and aviation industries will discuss a mutually agreeable, viable, and minimally disruptive path forward on 5G deployment. This should be done in an atmosphere of transparency that is focused on finding solutions.

The aviation industry coalition continues to provide helpful information to inform regulators and lawmakers about the impact of 5G interference on radar altimeters. The same cannot be said of the telecommunications industry. HAI, as co-chair of the Technical and Operations Working Group, is also working to develop mitigations, but without further data from the wireless industry, our solutions are limited.

The other elephant in the room is the cost. Retrofits will be needed to maintain safety, which will require the purchase and installation of new equipment for what could be the majority of aircraft in operation today.

The federal government sold the spectrum adjacent to the C band for $80 billion. HAI believes our industry and aviation as a whole shouldn’t be obligated to cover the costs associated with the wireless industry’s gain. HAI is working with key authorizers and appropriators on Capitol Hill to find an equitable path forward.

We Need YOUR Support

HAI is working on behalf of you and our industry to ensure the needs of our community—such as working radar altimeters—are addressed. Very shortly, we’ll issue an HAI Advocacy Call to Action asking you to contact your elected officials with requests for their assistance on the spectrum problem. At that time, we’ll provide all the information you’ll need to reach out and present your input to your representatives.

Look for additional updates in HAI Washington Update, our members-only Legislative Action Center, and this column in ROTOR. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit rotor.org/advocacy and sign up for HAI Legislative Alerts. Working together, we’ll move our industry forward!

Authors

  • Emma Taylor joined HAI as a policy analyst in 2020. She graduated cum laude from Villanova University in December 2019 with a major in political science. Driven by her passion for public policy and advocacy, Emma is thrilled to start her career at HAI and has since developed a deeper appreciation for the vertical lift industry.

  • John Shea joined HAI as director of government affairs in 2019. He came to HAI from the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), where he was interim president in 2018 and lead government affairs representative since 2017. Previously, as a legislative staffer, John advised multiple members of Congress on transportation policy.

  • HAI’s VP of government affairs, Cade Clark has directed association advocacy programs for over 20 years. Growing up, he worked at an FBO where Cade learned to fly, washed planes, got in the mechanics’ way, idolized the old-timers and their stories, and deepened his love for all things general aviation.

Emma Taylor

Emma Taylor

Emma Taylor joined HAI as a policy analyst in 2020. She graduated cum laude from Villanova University in December 2019 with a major in political science. Driven by her passion for public policy and advocacy, Emma is thrilled to start her career at HAI and has since developed a deeper appreciation for the vertical lift industry.

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