5G Deployment: Panic Grips Airlines

  • U.S carriers mull flight cancellations


The global aviation industry is expected to be put on edge on Wednesday when telecommunication giants, AT&T and Verizon, launch a new 5G service.

As countries including Nigeria are on the verge of deploying 5G, panic is said to have gripped the sector, especially the aviation industry. Nigeria’s deployment of 5G over major urban areas of the country will make it become Africa’s biggest network for the spectrum by 2025.

This is coming as the Chief Executives of major United States passenger and cargo carriers warned of oncoming ‘catastrophic’ aviation disasters.

The carriers have warned that the new C-Band 5G service, which is slated for launch on Wednesday, might render a large number of wide-body aircraft inoperable, strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas, and cause chaos for US flights.

CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and other airlines in a letter seen by Aviation Metric noted: “The vast majority of the travelling and the shipping public will essentially be grounded unless our major hubs are cleared to fly.”

The US highest aviation regulatory body, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), recently issued a warning that possible interference could impair sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters, causing severe delays in low visibility flights.

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The FAA said: “It will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G. The FAA continues to work with the aviation industry and wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and cancellations.”

Airlines were debating whether to start cancelling some overseas flights due to the planned deployment of 5G. Aircraft manufacturing firm, Boeing, highlighted that the transportation industry was bracing for possible service disruptions as a result of the proposed limits of certain airports.

‘We are optimistic that we will be able to come up with solutions that safely offset as many schedule implications as feasible by working across businesses and with the government,” the company stated.

UPS Airlines, Alaska, Atlas Air, JetBlue Airways, and FedEx in a joint statement said, “To put it bluntly, the country’s commerce will come to a halt.”

The letter was addressed to Brian Deese, Director of the White House National Economic Council, Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson, and FCC Chairwoman, Jessica Rosenwarce.

AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to cut potential interference for six months.

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They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff, after previously delaying service by 30 days.

Verizon and AT&T argued that the C-Band 5G has been successfully deployed in about 40 other countries without aviation interference issues.

United Airlines late Monday separately warned the issue could affect more than 15,000 of its flights, 1.25 million passengers, and snarl tons of cargo annually.

United said it faces “significant restrictions on 787s, 777s, 737s and regional aircraft in major cities like Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.”

The airlines ask “that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles (3.2 km) of airport runways” at some key airports.

“Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.

The airlines added that flight restrictions will not be limited to poor weather operations.

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“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew… Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.”

One area of concern is whether some or all Boeing 777s will be unable to land at some key U.S. airports after 5G service starts, as well as some Boeing cargo planes, airline officials said.


The airlines however urged action to ensure “5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”

Meanwhile, the FAA said it had cleared an estimated 45% of the U.S. commercial airplane fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed and they expect to issue more approvals before Wednesday. The airlines noted that the list did not include many large airports.

Wole Shadare