The imminent rollout of 5G high-speed telecommunications services threatens ground flights across the United States, the largest US airlines warned on Monday, as they urged government agencies to intervene to avoid “chaos” for passengers and “incalculable” disruptions to supply chains.
“The harm that will result from the January 19 rollout is far worse than originally anticipated,” warned Airlines for America, an industry lobby group, pointing to the possibility of 5G services interfering with sensitive equipment planes use to take off and land.
The letter, seen by the Financial Times and first reported by Reuters, was signed by the largest US carriers as well as the air freight services of two of the largest logistics groups, UPS and FedEx.
The companies have called on Joe Biden’s administration to block the rollout of 5G to towers within two miles of airport runways that the Federal Aviation Authority has identified as prone to disruption.
“Unless our main hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of travelers and shippers will essentially be grounded,” the lobby group wrote in its letter to officials, including Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council. , and Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary.
The White House and the Transportation Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Airlines for America declined to comment.
AT&T and Verizon had planned to launch their 5G services on December 5, but delayed the launch for a month to allow time for security reviews. The two telecom groups initially rejected a later request from regulators to delay their rollout for another two weeks until January 19, but later agreed to do so.
Planned 5G services use frequencies in the C-band radio spectrum, which may be close to those used by altimeters that measure an aircraft’s height above the ground and transmit information to navigation instruments and other on-board safety systems. .
The FAA has designated buffer zones around 50 airports with wireless transmitters near runways, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. However, the airlines argue that this will not be enough to avoid disruption.
The 11 executives who signed Monday’s letter said the FAA’s latest statement on the matter downplayed the threat of disruption and that continuing flight restrictions at those 50 airports could leave “huge swathes of the fleet in operation” on the ground indefinitely.
On Sunday, the FAA cleared planes to use two models of radio altimeters to make low-visibility landings at the 88 airports it expected to be most affected by C-band 5G interference.
The FAA’s clearance of the aircraft could still leave 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers affected by cancellations or delays in a typical day, Airlines for America warned, saying it had determined that travel restrictions flight would not be limited to operations in bad weather.
The airlines’ warning of ‘incalculable’ effects on passengers, staff and cargo operations came as the industry continued to struggle to rebuild its schedules to pre-Covid levels while dealing with disruption seasonal winter storms.
On Monday, FlightAware reported that more than 2,500 US flights experienced delays, with more than 1,600 cancellations.
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