AT&T, Verizon Delay 5G Rollout Near Some Airports After Airlines Warn of Safety Concerns

AT&T, Verizon Delay 5G Rollout Near Some Airports After Airlines Warn of Safety Concerns
American Airlines and American Eagle planes sit at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 18, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Bryan Jung

AT&T and Verizon on Tuesday agreed to temporarily delay its rollout of 5G service near some U.S. airports after airlines warned the rollout would cause flight cancellations.

Both AT&T and Verizon still plan on deploying their 5G networks on Jan. 18, aside from a “limited number” of 5G towers within two miles of some runways.

AT&T and Verizon did not say how many airports were affected and how long the delays in service would last, but said that they would work with federal regulators to settle the dispute.

The decision to delay comes as the Biden administration tries to broker a settlement between the telecom companies and the airlines over a rollout of 5G service.

The airlines want the new service to be banned from two miles of airport runways, as it may interfere with flight electronics.

The new high-speed 5G C-Band service sits next to frequencies used by key instruments on standard commercial aircraft, which the FAA warned could interfere with key systems, such as radio altimeters.

Radio altimeters are devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground and are a vital tool to help pilots land when visibility is poor, and they also link to other systems on planes.

Having 5G signals near airports could interfere with the altimeters pilots use to measure how close they are to the ground, according to an FAA study last year.

In December, the FAA ordered many commercial and commuter aircraft not to rely on them when experiencing 5G interference.

AT&T and Verizon deny that their equipment will interfere with aircraft electronics and that the technology is being safely used in many other countries.

However, Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airways, and Japan Airlines have announced they would cancel some flights to the United States due to uncertainty about 5G rollouts.

“At our sole discretion we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” said AT&T in a press statement.

The telecom company said it was “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 do so in a timely manner.”

“We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

Verizon also said it would “voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports,” but would still continue with its plans to launch the network.

Verizon blasted the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines saying that they “have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” the company said.

Airline industry executives issued a dire warning about the impact that the new 5G service would have on flights.

The CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, and seven other aviation companies said that interference with aircraft systems would be worse than they originally thought, making many flights impossible.

“To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” unless the service is blocked near major airports, the CEOs said in a joint letter on Jan. 17 to federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has previously taken the airlines’ side regarding 5G.

“The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce, and the broader economy are simply incalculable,” they said.

Aircraft could be grounded, they warned, causing “catastrophic disruption” to travel and subjecting up to 100,000 passengers a day to cancellations or delays if 5G networks are deployed without accommodations for safety.

Some airlines have considered canceling international flights scheduled to arrive in the United States on Jan. 19, according to Reuters.

The Federal Communications Commission does not share the FAA’s misgivings about 5G.

The FCC argued last year 5G signals did not appear to interfere with airplane altimeters, pointing to several studies from Europe.

President Joe Biden hoped that the agreements by AT&T and Verizon “will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled.”

Biden said his administration will keep working with both sides to reach a permanent solution around key airports.

Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry. He graduated from Binghamton University.
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