Major wireless companies Verizon Communications and AT&T are switching over to spectrum for 5G service in early January, but an airline trade group warned the change could be extremely disruptive to air travel.
Set to begin January 5, the Federal Aviation Administration said last week that interference from 5G wireless spectrum could result in flight diversions. Trade group Airlines for America said that will be costly to its industry.
“Airline customers rely on airlines to transport time-sensitive perishable products such as pharmaceuticals, vaccines, organs, critical supply chain parts, and many other high-value items,” the trade group said, according to CNBC. “The lack of serious mitigations on the part of 5G telecom companies to address interference issues will significantly disrupt and harm the economy.”
The trade group and others are asking regulators to work with the White House, cellular companies, and the aviation industry to find a solution. But the clock is ticking.
“While some AT&T and Verizon customers will gain service in many regions, the trade-off is that millions of people traveling by plane in the United States will be impacted with flight cancellations and delays in an already strained system,” the Aviation 5G Coalition said. “Time is running out before millions of air travelers and the shipping public experience significant disruptions.”
Neither Verizon nor AT&T have commented on the coalition’s claims, but a cellular industry trade group dismissed them as being overblown.
“Despite no credible evidence of a risk to aviation safety, U.S. wireless providers have voluntarily put in place the world’s most comprehensive set of temporary protections,” CTIA chief executive Meredith Attwell Baker told FlightGlobal.com. “We are working closely with the aviation industry and are on track to join the nearly 40 countries safely using 5G in the C-Band in January.”
But Airlines for America said its analysis shows the plan could cost passengers $1.6 billion annually in delays. If new FAA directives were in place in 2019, approximately 5,400 cargo flights and 345,000 passenger flights would have been delayed, diverted, or canceled.
AT&T and Verizon delayed the launch of 5G to allow time for concerns to be worked out, but neither appears ready to push it back any later.
Locations already approved for the new service include areas around Seattle, Portland, most of California, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City in the western United States; most of Florida and the urban areas of New England; major cities in Texas; and cities in the Midwest from Minneapolis to Nashville.
FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel told CNBC she believes the issues can be resolved and that cellular companies can safely use the new service.
Pilot — and TravelAwaits’ writer — Christy Karsten shares her views on 5G and flight safety.
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