U.S. Airlines Issue Dire Warning Over This Week's 5G Rollout

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U.S. Airlines are warning of “chaos” and “incalculable” disruptions to air traffic if Verizon and AT&T follow through with deployment of high-speed 5G services this week.

In a letter to Federal officials including Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Airlines for America, an industry trade group said that “the harm that will result from deployment on January 19 is substantially worse than we originally anticipated.” The letter was signed by the largest U.S. airlines as well as UPS and FedEx. 

The companies asked Buttigieg to delay the deployment of 5G to towers located within a two mile perimeter of airport runways that the FAA says are areas where 5G could interfere with sensitive equipment used to control air traffic. They warned of major disruptions, not only to domestic travel but international as well. 

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the lobby group said.

United warned that the 5G rollout will have a “devastating” impact on aviation, and could negatively affect an estimated 1.25 million United passengers, 15,000 flights and cargo shipping through more than 40 U.S. airports. United recommended the Federal government look to how countries around the world have handled similar situations.

“Governments in other countries have successfully designed policies to ensure the safe deployment of 5G technology and we’re simply asking the U.S. government to do the same,” United said in a statement. “We implore the Biden administration to act quickly and apply the same common sense solutions here that have clearly worked so well around the world.”

The 5G networks being deployed this week were previously used in C-Band, which uses spectrum adjacent to that used in air traffic control. The airlines have continuously opposed the FCC’s campaign to auction off the spectrum over the past several years for this very reason. The FCC has deemed the use of the C-Band spectrum for 5G safe. 

AT&T and Verizon had originally planned to deploy its 5G networks in early December but had delayed deployment twice after agreeing to safety reviews. 

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.