The chief executives of major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers on Monday warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis in less than 36 hours, when AT&T (T.N) and Verizon (VZ.N) are set to deploy new 5G service.
The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service set to begin on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and cause “chaos” for U.S. flights.
The airlines want 5G signals to be excluded from “the approximate two miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA on 19 January 2022”.
“This will allow 5G to be deployed while avoiding harmful impacts on the aviation industry, travelling public, supply chain, vaccine distribution, our workforce and broader economy.
“We further ask that the FAA immediately identify those base stations closest to key airport runways that need to be addressed to ensure safety and avoid disruption,” they added.
These concerns were recently highlighted by the two big planemakers, Airbus and Boeing, in a rare joint warning.
The group of airlines said: “Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swathes of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.
“In addition to the chaos caused domestically, this lack of usable wide-body aircraft could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas.”
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to cut potential interference for six months. They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff, after previously delaying service by 30 days.
Verizon and AT&T declined comment on Monday. They argue C-Band 5G has been successfully deployed in about 40 other countries without aviation interference issues.
United Airlines late Monday separately warned the issue could affect more than 15,000 of its flights, 1.25 million passengers and snarl tons of cargo annually.
United said it faces “significant restrictions on 787s, 777s, 737s and regional aircraft in major cities like Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.”
The airlines ask “that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles (3.2 km) of airport runways” at some key airports.
“Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.
The airlines added that flight restrictions will not be limited to poor weather operations.
“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew… Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.”