The 10 biggest airlines in the US have warned of catastrophic flight disruptions that could occur due to technology interference and that “trade from the land will grind to a halt and cause economic calamity’ if Verizon and AT&T deploys more segments of their new 5G mobile internet technology on Wednesday.
The airlines executives urged the administration of President Joe Biden to prohibit 5G wireless transmissions near certain airports, warning of an aviation-industry meltdown.
In a 17 January letter to the US Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg and other top United States federal officials, the airlines said that Verizon and AT&T’s plans could contribute to the disruptions in the global shipping network that have fueled inflation.
The letter asked the government to prohibit 5G transmissions within 2 miles (3.2km) of runways at affected airports.
High-speed 5G internet uses C-band frequencies close to those used by aircraft to measure their altitude. The airlines say the technology can interfere with the instruments and create a serious safety hazards.
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 US flights.
The chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air, JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express and others, said: “Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded. To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
But Verizon and AT&T have argued that the aviation industry had years to upgrade any equipment that might be affected.
The United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane 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 subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the letter cautioned.
Airlines late on Monday were considering whether to begin canceling some international flights that are scheduled to arrive in the US on Wednesday.
“With the proposed restrictions at selected airports, the transportation industry is preparing for some service disruption. We are optimistic that we can work across industries and with government to finalise solutions that safely mitigate as many schedule impacts as possible,” Boeing said on Monday.