U.S. airlines warn of flight disruptions without further 5G restrictions

In an alarming move, airlines in the U.S. have called for further restrictions on 5G networks around airports, amid concerns the use of a new C-band spectrum for the mobile services may disrupt plane altimeter readings.   

The chief executives of major passenger and cargo airlines warned in a letter to top U.S. officials that there could be significant flight disruptions when the new 5G services go live on January 19, unless implementation of the wireless service within 2 miles of major airport runways is delayed.  

As such, airlines want some 5G implementation set to start on Wednesday, delayed near significant airports in the U.S.  

On its part, AT&T — the world’s largest telecommunications company and the largest provider of mobile telephone services in the U.S. — and Verizon have already twice delayed the launch of their new C-Band 5G service, due to warnings from airlines and airplane manufacturers concerned that the new system might interfere with their ability to gauge altitude.  

“We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate two miles of airport runways as defined by the FAA on January 19, 2022,” the Chief Executives said in a letter.   

The CEOs who wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — who ran as a candidate for president in the 2020 Democratic Party primaries — as well as other government officials, pointed out the risk of “economic calamity” should Verizon and AT&T proceed as planned with implementing the technology before the necessary upgrades and changes have been made to aviation equipment.   

“To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt,” the executives stressed.  

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration regulator (FAA) said on Sunday that it had approved some transponders to be operated within areas where 5G will be deployed, clearing “as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-Band interference.”  

However, airlines are expressing worry and concern that remaining limitations at those airports and a large amount of uncertified equipment could lead to the grounding of thousands of flights.  

It is worth mentioning that United Airlines noted on Monday that the fifth-generation technology rollout plan would negatively impact an estimated 1.25 million of the airline’s passengers, with 15,000 flights disrupted on an annual basis. The company also demanded from President Joe Biden’s administration to take urgent action.