AT&T and Verizon are changing their planned rollout of 5G service following an outcry from airline CEOs. But not without noting that nearly 40 other countries have made this transition already.
In a letter to White House officials, the airline CEOs had warned that the companies’ 5G plans would have devastating consequences for commercial air travel. They said it would also affect the delivery of packages, including medicines. The airlines asked administration officials to intervene to stop the 5G rollout.
Now AT&T and Verizon are voluntarily agreeing to leave off towers near some airport runways. Those towers might interfere with sensitive airplane equipment such as altimeters, the New York Post reports.
The White House said Tuesday that it was trying to broker a solution to the standoff between the airlines and the telecoms.
AT&T, Verizon Change 5G Plans, Voice Frustration
AT&T will wait to turn on a “limited number” of towers around select airport runways, the company said Tuesday. And it pledged to cooperate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airlines to mitigate safety issues.
“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 in a statement. “We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”
Verizon, for its part, said it would go ahead with its 5G launch on Wednesday. But the company will “voluntarily limit” 5G around airports.
“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports,” Verizon said in a statement. That’s “despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”
Airlines Warned of ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences
In a recent letter, the CEOs of American, Delta, Southwest, United Airlines and others warned of “catastrophic” results if AT&T and Verizon went ahead with their 5G rollout on Wednesday.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the CEOs wrote in a letter to administration officials.
The airlines called Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on Sunday. They made the officials aware of the looming crisis. The CEOs say airplane manufacturers have told them they may have to ground large swaths of their operating fleets once 5G rolls out. They are asking for a buffer zone of two miles around airport runways where 5G does not take effect.
So far, AT&T and Verizon have agreed to create buffer zones around 50 airports. But that leaves many other airports in limbo.
Meanwhile, the FAA has cleared about 45 percent of commercial airplanes in the U.S. Those airplanes can perform low-visibility landings at airports where 5G takes effect. But that does not include many of the large airports that people and parcels traverse on their journeys across the country.