The chief executives of major US passenger and cargo carriers warned of an impending « catastrophic » aviation crisis on Wednesday as AT&T and Verizon prepare to roll out a new 5G service.
Airlines have warned that the new C-Band 5G service could render a large number of wide-body aircraft unusable and « could strand tens of thousands of Americans abroad ».
« Unless our major hubs are allowed to fly, the vast majority of passengers and freight will be essentially grounded, » the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and others wrote.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive aircraft instruments such as altimeters and affect low visibility operations.
« This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers will experience cancellations, diversions or delays, » she cautioned.
In the letter, also signed by UPS Airlines, Atlas Air, JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express, they added that the action was urgent. « To be honest, the nation’s trade will stop. »
The letter, seen by Reuters, went to White House National Economic Council Director Brian Daisy, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Federal Aviation Administration Director Steve Dixon and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Jessica Rosenworsell.
The American Airlines group that organized the letter declined to comment. Government agencies did not immediately comment.
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of C-band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, agreed on Jan. 3 to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to reduce potential interference for six months.
They also agreed to postpone the deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, to temporarily avoid an aviation safety crisis.
CEOs of major airlines and Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun held an extended call with Buttigieg and Dixon on Sunday to warn of a looming crisis, officials told Reuters.
Airlines are requiring « 5G to be implemented everywhere in the country except within approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) of runways » at some major airports.
« Immediate intervention is needed to avoid major operational disruptions to air passengers, shippers, the supply chain and the delivery of necessary medical supplies. »
The airlines added that the flight restrictions would not be limited to bad weather. « Many modern onboard safety systems will be deemed unusable causing a much bigger problem than we knew…Aircraft manufacturers have told us there are huge areas of the operating fleet that may need to be grounded indefinitely. »
The carriers added that they are urging action to ensure « 5G is deployed only when the towers are very close to airport runways so that the FAA can determine how to achieve this safely without catastrophic disruptions. »
The Federal Aviation Administration said Sunday it has cleared an estimated 45 percent of the US commercial aircraft fleet to perform low-sight landings at several airports where the 5G band will be deployed starting Wednesday. The airlines indicated on Monday that the list does not include many large airports.
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