5G rollout could affect airlines

Airlines, at odds with AT&T and Verizon over their plans to launch new 5G wireless service this week, have warned they could cancel or delay thousands of flights if the rollout is near major airports.

Directors of major US airlines say wireless interference with a crucial aircraft instrument is more serious than they thought.

“Put bluntly, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” unless service near major airports is shut down, the CEOs said Monday in a letter to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has previously taken party for the airlines in this matter, and other federal officials.

AT&T and Verizon plan to activate their new 5G wireless service on Wednesday after several delays. In principle they had planned it for the beginning of December.

The new 5G high-speed service uses a segment of the radio spectrum close to that used by altimeters, devices that measure the height of the plane.

Two weeks ago, the companies agreed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to delay service for two weeks and reduce the power of 5G transmitters near airports. That delay ends Wednesday.

AT&T and Verizon say their equipment won’t interfere with aircraft electronics and that their technology is already in use in many countries. Aviation industry critics say airlines had several years to upgrade their altimeters to avoid 5G interference.

The bosses of 10 passenger and cargo airlines, including American, Delta, United and Southwest, said 5G will cause bigger disruption than they thought because dozens of large airports were required to have buffer zones to prevent 5G interference with airports. They will be subject to flight restrictions announced last week by the FAA and because those restrictions will not apply only to times of poor visibility.