Update (1450ET): Much to the relief of travelers everywhere, it appears AT&T and Verizon have decided to delay the rollout of parts of their 5G networks that have been deemed to be dangerously close to vulnerable airports.
As we discussed below, the aviation industry (still reeling from the disastrous and deadly Boeing 737 Max 8 rollout) warned about potentially deadly accidents that could result from signals interference related to the 5G rollout.
In a statement, an AT&T spokesman said the company wouldn't roll out its 5G service in select areas near a "limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the (FAA)."
The wireless companies blamed the FAA and the industry for failing to solve this problem sooner.
"We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner," an AT&T spokesperson said.
President Biden greeted the news with a statement of his own, saying the carriers decision will "avoid potentially devastating disruptions" to travel.
"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. "
The FAA has repeatedly warned about potential interference from the 5G rollout, as we discussed below.
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared a large portion of the U.S. commercial plane fleet for ultra-low visibility landing at half of the U.S. airports affected by the upcoming rollout of 5G. However, a top airline lobbying group warned the 5G rollout could unleash severe economic consequences for commercial and cargo airlines.
An FAA statement, released Sunday, said Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, MD-10/-11 and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330 and A350 models had been approved to perform low-visibility landings (this represents about 45% of America's commercial fleet). The agency also approved two radar altimeter models that will not be disrupted by the 5G band from cellular towers.
The remaining airports will be heavily impacted by 5G frequencies and could cause airlines to delay or cancel flights based on weather. The FAA has requested AT&T and Verizon, which plan to turn on their 5G towers on Dec. 19, to create buffer zones for six months around 50 airports where transmitters are nearby.
"Even with these new approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected. The FAA also continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible," the FAA said.
The heart of the problem lies in the aircraft's radar altimeter uses frequencies close to C-band. 5G towers also use C-band radio spectrum frequencies that can disrupt altimeters, an important device that measures the aircraft's height above ground.
Airlines for America, a lobbying group, based in Washington, D.C. that represents major North American airlines, such as Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, United, UPS, FedEx, and Air Canada, voiced their concern Monday about the 5G rollout and how it could have a massive impact on aircraft operations and possibly lead to "economic calamity."
"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," the lobbying group said, noting that 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers could experience delays or cancelations daily.
"The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable… To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt."
The lobbying group warned that large swaths of the "operating fleet" are "indefinitely grounded" until the radar altimeter disruption is resolved.
In addition to possible travel chaos, grounding fleets of cargo planes could create a new supply chain issue: the lack of widebody aircraft for shipping goods.
There also appears to be no resolution by the FAA for helicopters. Last week, the Helicopter Association International revealed entire helicopters fleets might be grounded nationwide when 5G towers are switched on.
If the lobbying group is right, flight delays and cancellations could dramatically increase on top of what has been a daily occurrence due to labor shortages and weather. The new twist is how cargo fleets could be grounded and disrupt already stressed supply chains.