U.S. airline officials fear “catastrophic disruption” if AT&T and Verizon go ahead and switch on their new C-Band 5G networks this week.
The airlines are concerned that interference from 5G cell towers could affect sensitive airplane safety instruments such as the altimeter, which is vital for low-visibility landings.
In a letter obtained by Reuters sent to the White House, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), concerns were expressed by chief executives from carriers including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the letter said. “Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain, and delivery of needed medical supplies.”
It said the issue could “potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas,” adding: “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
The airlines want cell phone companies to refrain from activating 5G cell phone towers within 2 miles (3.2 km) to avoid what it said could be “catastrophic disruption” to flight schedules.
Responding to concerns, AT&T and Verizon last year postponed their C-Band 5G activations until January 5 to allow the FAA to further investigate the matter, with the date then pushed to January 18.
The airlines’ letter comes after the FAA said on Sunday it had deemed it safe for nearly half of the U.S. commercial aircraft fleet to undertake low-visibility landings at many airports where C-Band 5G will be activated on Wednesday, with more permissions likely coming soon.
The issue of C-Band 5G cell tower deployment near airports has been rumbling on for a long time, so it comes as a surprise that, with just a couple of days to go, it has yet to be fully resolved.
In a letter sent to the FCC in 2017, for example, the Aerospace Vehicle Systems Institute said earlier plans to use the C-Band for telecommunications were ditched after studies…