CEOs of major US airlines warn 5G could ground some planes and wreak havoc

A Southwest Airlines plane approaches for landing at San Diego International Airport as US telecommunications companies, airlines and the FAA continue to discuss the potential impact of 5G wireless services on aircraft electronics planes in San Diego, California, U.S., January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Chief executives of major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers warned on Monday of a “catastrophic” airline crisis looming in less than 36 hours, as AT&T (TN) and Verizon (VZ .N) are expected to roll out a new 5G service.

Airlines have warned that new 5G C-band service set to begin on Wednesday could render significant numbers of wide-body jets inoperable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans abroad” and cause “chaos ” for US flights.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of travelers and shippers will be essentially grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N ), United Airlines, Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) and others in a letter first reported by Reuters.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive aircraft instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.

“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subject to cancellations, diversions or delays,” said the letter warned.

On Monday evening, airlines were considering starting to cancel some international flights that were due to arrive in the United States on Wednesday.

“With the proposed restrictions at some airports, the transportation industry is preparing for some service disruption. We are optimistic that we will be able to work with all sectors and with government to finalize solutions that safely mitigate as many impacts on schedules as possible,” the aircraft manufacturer Boeing (BA.N) said on Monday.

Urgent action is needed, the airlines added in the letter also signed by UPS Airlines (UPS.N), Alaska Air (ALK.N), Atlas Air (AAWW.O), JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express (FDX. NOT). “To be frank, the nation’s trade is going to stop.”

The letter was addressed to White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman. , Jessica Rosenworcel.

Airlines for America, the group that organized the letter, declined to comment. Government agencies did not immediately comment.


AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, agreed on January 3 to create buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce the risk of interference and take other steps to reduce potential interference for six months. They also agreed to delay the deployment by two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an air safety standoff, after previously delaying the service by 30 days.

Verizon and AT&T declined to comment on Monday.

Major airline CEOs and Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun had a lengthy call with Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday to warn of the looming crisis, officials told Reuters.

Airlines are calling for “5G to be implemented nationwide except within approximately 2 miles of airport runways” at certain key airports.

“Immediate response is required to avoid significant operational disruptions to air passengers, shippers, the supply chain and the delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.

The airlines added that the flight restrictions will not be limited to operations in bad weather.

“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed inoperable, causing a much bigger problem than we knew… Aircraft manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swathes of the fleet in operation that may need to be grounded indefinitely.”

One area of ​​concern is whether some Boeing 777s will be unable to land at key U.S. airports after 5G service begins, as well as some Boeing cargo planes, airline officials told Reuters.

Airlines urged action to ensure ‘5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how this can be accomplished safely without catastrophic disruption’ .

The FAA said Sunday it has cleared about 45% of the U.S. commercial aircraft fleet for low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed and expects to issue more approvals before Wednesday. Airlines noted on Monday that the list did not include many major airports.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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