U.S. Airlines Warn of 'Catastrophic' Crisis With Impending 5G Rollout, AT&T and Verizon Agree to Delay Around Airports

Verizon and AT&T's upcoming rollout of new C-Band 5G technology could cause chaos and lead to widespread delays of passenger and cargo flights, major U.S. airlines said on Monday in a letter sent to the White House National Economic Council, the FAA, and the FCC (via Reuters).

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"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," read the statement, penned by CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air, JetBlue Airways, and FedEx Express. More than 1,100 flights could be cancelled, diverted, or delayed, stranding over 100,000 passengers, and airlines have called for "immediate intervention."

The Federal Aviation Administration has claimed that interference from the C-Band 5G could affect airplane altimeters, impacting operations in poor weather conditions. The FAA has already implemented buffer zones around 50 major airports with wireless transmitters close to runways, but the airlines have said that this is not enough and are asking for C-Band 5G to be restricted in a two mile area around airport runways at affected locations.

According to the letter, the FAA has not cleared some of the airports that are "used by most of the traveling and shipping public," which is going to cause significant delays when C-Band spectrum goes live tomorrow.

Given the short time frame and the exigency of this completely avoidable economic calamity, we respectfully request you support and take whatever action necessary to ensure that 5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.

AT&T and Verizon have been planning to deploy C-Band spectrum to improve their 5G networks since December, but have faced multiple delays due to objections from the FAA and FCC. The two companies last agreed to delay the rollout until January 19, to give airlines more time to prepare to ensure fewer disruptions to air operations.

The two carriers paid billions of dollars for the C-Band spectrum to bolster their 5G networks, and have ensured customers that improvements are coming soon. Verizon last week announced plans to expand 5G Ultra Wideband technology to more than 1,700 cities in the U.S. using the spectrum, and the two carriers are reluctant to agree to further delays.

In response to the letter from the airlines, the FAA said that it "will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G. The FAA continues to work with the aviation industry and wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and cancellations."

Verizon and AT&T this morning said that they will voluntarily delay turning on a limited number of 5G towers to address the aviation industry's concerns. AT&T said that it is frustrated by the FAA's lack of action, given the time the agency has had to prepare.

We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner.

At the current time, it seems C-Band spectrum will indeed begin rolling out on January 19 as planned, but areas around some airport runways will not be activated at this time to avoid signal interference.

Tags: AT&T, FCC, Verizon

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Top Rated Comments

Bryan Bowler Avatar
31 months ago
I am very short on time this week, but as a pilot, I will attempt to answer a few of the questions being posted here. The FAA is tasked with protecting public safety. The band being rolled out by AT&T and Verizon is right next to the frequencies used by the special altimeter systems that we use to determine the precise height above the ground during instrument approaches, which are sometimes in poor visibility or even no visibility conditions. As it turns out, this band of 5G frequencies, if broadcasted strong enough, can and do effect our altimeters ability to read our precise height above the ground.

Most of our planes can go all the way down to 100ft above the ground in limited to no visibility before needing to see some part of the runway environment to determine if we can safely land. In some special cases, we can go even lower. Keep in mind that jet engines take a few seconds to spool up and produce enough power to execute a go-around if we cannot safely land. Now, think about just how low a plane actually is when it is only 100ft above the ground and descending (only 1/3rd of a football field) and think about what would happen if our special altimeter systems were off, even by a little bit, and how catastrophic that could be.

As such, the FAA is pulling the plug and will not allow us to even try these instrument approaches if AT&T and Verizon were to implement the bands today. We simply cannot take that risk with lives on board and millions of dollars worth of cargo. This would delay and cancel countless flights. But that leads to more: keep in mind that we go from one flight to another, and cancellations like this would cause a cascading effect of cancellations across the entire system. Think about what happens when there is a major Nor'Easter....flights on the West Coast are cancelled because of the cascading effects on planes and crews.

The solution is not as simple as "put new equipment on planes" as that takes years of developmental and operational testing, certification, and of course, big, big money. Now, whether or not someone in the government has sat on this info for years is above my pay grade...but when it comes to the immediate action by the FAA and as a result, the airlines and cargo carriers, we must halt operations (if things were moving forward as planned) because we cannot risk a crash killing hundreds of people or destroying hundreds of millions of dollars in property.

This has everything to do with public safety. And it has everything to do with keeping the current air transport system up and running.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
xxray Avatar
31 months ago
They’ve known this rollout has been planned for years. AT&T and Verizon have already delayed it twice over the past month.

AND, as the article says:

We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner.
So why is this an issue? Why weren’t they preparing for this? They’re hampering U.S. technological innovation.

Edit: removed factually incorrect statement
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fwmireault Avatar
31 months ago

(cue whiny Gen Z/Millennial voice)
Cancelled flights and plane crashes are a small price to pay if I get faster Instagram notifications and TikTok uploads. Defund the FAA!

Not.
Thank you for your constructive comment
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Konigi Avatar
31 months ago
But why just now?
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BWhaler Avatar
31 months ago
This is why government regulators are a good thing and it’s a total lie that the “free market will optimize best societal decisions."

Government isn’t good for everything, even most things. But they do play a critical role in a decent, modern society.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jz0309 Avatar
31 months ago
Whoever dropped the ball on this, needs serious consequences… 5G and the various spectrums have LONG been known…
This situation could have easily been avoided, it’s called communication
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)