Cell carriers delaying some 5G rollout amid continued concerns from airlines

Published: January 18, 2022 3:06 PM EST
Updated: January 18, 2022 5:05 PM EST

AT&T and Verizon will delay launching new wireless services near some airports after the nation’s largest airlines said the service would interfere with aircraft technology and cause massive flight disruptions.

The decision from the telecommunication companies arrived Tuesday as the Biden administration tried to broker a settlement between the telecom companies and the airlines over a rollout of new 5G services, scheduled for Wednesday.

Airlines want the new service to be banned within two miles of airport runways.

It is unknown which airports the delayed 5G rollout will be implemented.

The pause comes after major airlines said the rollout would cause “A catastrophic aviation crisis,” canceling tens of thousands of flights across the country.

AT&T and Verizon originally planned to fully deploy the 5G service on Wednesday after delaying the initial rollout in early December 2021.

The CEO of the RexAir Flight School in Naples, Keith West, said, “we’re really surprised that it got to be this far without being investigated further.”

West hoped for another delay so the FAA could do more tests on the impact 5G could have on airlines.

West said the issues come from the altimeter, which lets pilots know how high up they are, particularly in bad weather.

“If you’re trying to get down to within one or 200 feet to the ground, or even closer, and you have interference with this instrument, it really impacts your ability to understand how high you are, and if you can keep ascending,” said West.

The FAA reported 54% of airports are impacted by 5G.

WINK News asked a spokesperson with RSW if their airport is impacted. She said, “we only have the general information you have, at this time.”

Either way, if 5G is rolled out before full FAA approval and airlines ground flights, you will certainly feel it in Southwest Florida.

United Airlines said it’ll cause issues in major cities like Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.

All of those airports fly direct to RSW.

The Biden administration released a statement thanking AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to delay their Wednesday rollout. You can read the complete statement below:

I want to thank Verizon and AT&T for agreeing to delay 5G deployment around key airports and to continue working with the Department of Transportation on safe 5G deployment at this limited set of locations. This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled. This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans. Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine, and tomorrow will be a massive step in the right direction. My team has been engaging non-stop with the wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist – and, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports.

Alan Crowetz, an “Info Stream” technology expert, said, “you have these companies like AT&T and Verizon, whatever like that, their ideas, we want to push the limit, we want to have the best service, the best product, the best experience, the best, whatever we want to be on the cutting edge, or what we call the bleeding edge of technology. Airports in the FAA are the exact opposite. We don’t want change, we safety over everything.”

Crowetz said AT&T and Verizon have long maintained their technology poses no threat to airplane safety, pointing to successful rollouts in 40 other countries worldwide.

“You know, maybe the signs says everything should be fine, but they want to test it. They want to be overly sure. And rightfully so we don’t want a mistake that involves people flying in the air,” said Crowetz.

The CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest say that 5G will be more disruptive than earlier thought because dozens of large airports that were to have buffer zones to prevent 5G interference with aircraft will still be subject to flight restrictions announced last week by the FAA. They add that those restrictions won’t be limited to times when visibility is poor.

The airline industry and the FAA say that they have tried to raise alarms about potential interference from 5G, but the FCC has ignored them.

The telecoms, the FCC, and their supporters argue that 5G and aircraft altimeters operate far enough apart on the radio spectrum to avoid interference. They also say that the aviation industry has known about 5G technology for several years but did nothing to prepare — airlines chose not to upgrade altimeters that might be subject to interference, and the FAA failed to begin surveying equipment on planes until the last few weeks.

AT&T and Verizon will be allowed to launch 5G services this month under already-granted FCC licenses. The airlines have until Friday to give the companies a list of up to 50 airports where they believe the power of 5G service should be reduced through July 5.

Until July, the telecoms will talk to the FAA and airlines about potential long-term measures regarding 5G service near airports. However, under terms of the agreement with the FAA, AT&T and Verizon will have sole power to decide if any changes in service will be made.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.