Airlines warn 5G could jam systems, lead to 350K delays a year

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Airline executives are sounding louder alarms about the impending rollout of 5G service, warning that the cellphone frequencies could lead to 350,000 delays each year by jamming their in-flight systems.

The ultra-fast so-called C-Band service is set to roll out nationally in big cities on Jan. 5, meaning any rules to limit its strength to address airline safety concerns need to happen soon.

Southwest Airlines CEO Greg Kelly has said 5G is his company’s “No. 1 concern” and an industry group said the new ultra-fast cellphone service could lead to more than $2 billion in flight delays each year.

Airlines are warning of widespread flight cancelations and delays. They say 5G signals will interfere with sensitive aircraft safety systems — which operate near the same frequencies — and could disrupt their ability to land safely during storms, cloudy weather or smog. 

If the cell service is deployed as planned, hundreds of thousands of passengers could see their flights delayed, diverted or outright cancelled in 2022, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said in a Senate hearing last week. 

“It would be a catastrophic failure of government,” Kirby said, predicting that the 5G rollout would affect about 4 percent of all flights.

Both executives called on AT&T and Verizon to delay the implementation of 5G C-Band service, warning of maddening delays for passengers and financial losses for an industry that’s been battered by the pandemic.

Scott Kirby
“It would be a catastrophic failure of government,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said.
Getty Images

Regulators from the Federal Aviation Administration are analyzing cell tower and aircraft data to determine how to address the issue, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. About a week before C-Band service is rolled out on Jan. 5, the FAA is expected send out warnings to pilots about which airports will see 5G-related restrictions, according to the paper. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates 5G frequencies, have reportedly clashed over the issue. 

In a meeting last week, Buttigeig asked that the FCC consider a proposal from airlines that would involve limiting 5G signals around airports to create “buffer zones” — an idea the Rosenworcel’s agency dismissed as unrealistic, according to the Journal. 

Pete Buttigieg
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has reportedly clashed with the Federal Communications Commission over the issue.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Airplane landing
AT&T and Verizon deny that 5G will disrupt flights.
Getty Images

AT&T and Verizon, for their part, have denied that 5G technology will disrupt flights. 

“The aviation industry’s fearmongering relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact,” Nick Ludlum of wireless industry group CTIA said. “5G operates safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation operations in nearly 40 countries around the world. US airlines fly safely in and out of these countries every day without delays or disruptions related to C-Band 5G operations.” 

The wireless companies paid at least $81 billion for access to the 5G spectrum, Bloomberg reported.



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