WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Executives of major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers warned on Monday of a looming “catastrophic” airline crisis as AT&T and Verizon set to roll out their new 5G services on Wednesday.
Airlines have warned that the new 5G C-band service could render a significant number of large aircraft inoperable, “strand tens of thousands of Americans abroad” and cause “chaos” on domestic flights.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of travelers and passengers will be essentially grounded,” executives from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others wrote. in a letter originally reported by Reuters.
The Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) has warned that the potential risks of interference could affect certain sensitive instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper operations in low visibility.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers could be subject to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the letter said.
“With the proposed restrictions at some airports, the transport industry is preparing for some degree of disruption to services. We are optimistic that we can work with industries and with government to finalize solutions that mitigate as much as possible and safely the impacts on schedule,” planemaker Boeing said Monday. Urgent action is needed, the airlines added in the letter also signed by UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air, JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express.
“To be frank, the nation’s commerce will come to a standstill,” the signatories warned. The letter was sent 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 association behind the letter, declined to comment. The FAA said it would “continue to ensure the traveling public is safe as wireless companies roll out 5G.”
Other government agencies did not comment.
AT&T and Verizon, which have won almost all of the C-band spectrum in the United States, agreed in early January to create buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce the risk of interference and take other measures to reduce possible interference for six months.
The two telecom operators also agreed to delay the rollout of their 5G services by two weeks, until Wednesday, after previously delaying the launch by a month.
Verizon and AT&T, which declined to comment on Monday, say C-band 5G has been successfully deployed in about 40 other countries without aviation interference concerns.
(Report David Shepardson, French version Augustin Turpin, edited by Blandine Hénault)