Major telecommunications companies Verizon and AT&T delayed the rollout of their 5G technology near certain airports after a letter from the heads of major U.S. airlines warned of “catastrophic disruption” to travel.
Verizon said in a statement Tuesday that it would go forward with its planned Wednesday launch of the 5G Ultra Wideband network, but “voluntarily decided to limit” its implementation around airports.
AT&T similarly said it would “temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways.” The company took aim at the Federal Aviation Administration, saying it was “frustrated by the FAA’s inability … to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services.”
In a letter to the FAA and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday, the CEOs of major U.S. airlines — including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines — called for “immediate action to address 5G interference with [the] national aviation system.”
Airline heads warned of potential “catastrophic disruption” to air travel and shipping if 5G were to be deployed around airports, asking that the technology not be implemented within 2 miles of airport runways.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the airlines warned.
Aviation regulators had put in place restrictions to avoid interference between the new wireless service and airplane equipment. The FAA previously said that 5G interference could affect key airplane tools and particularly make flight operations more risky in poor weather.
“We recognize the economic importance of expanding 5G,” Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday, “and we appreciate the wireless companies working with us to protect the flying public and the country’s supply chain.”
The FAA noted that the tech companies’ limiting of 5G around airports would reduce the worst of the anticipated flight disruptions, but there would likely still be some flights affected by delays or cancellations.
The agency previously told Reuters that it “will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G,” and that it was working “with the aviation industry and wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and cancellations.”
In a statement Tuesday, President Joe Biden thanked Verizon and AT&T for delaying deployment of 5G around “key airports,” saying this would “avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery.”