The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the new 5G service could interfere with sensitive airplane instruments, like altimeters. It could also affect low-visibility flight operations, Reuters reports. And the airlines say the 5G service will render many widebody aircraft unusable.
All this may result in thousands of flight cancellations. And it may strand some Americans overseas.
“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 White House officials. Also signing the letter were Atlas Air, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, and UPS Airlines.
The airline CEOs joined Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun on a call with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on Sunday. Their goal was to alert administration officials to the pending travel disruptions.
Airlines Warn That ‘Commerce Will Grind to a Halt’
The airlines are asking for a buffer zone of 2 miles around airport runways. In that buffer zone, 5G would not take effect. AT&T and Verizon agreed on Jan. 3 to create buffer zones around 50 airports. And they delayed deployment until Wednesday. But that leaves many airports still vulnerable to interference.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would [face] cancellations, diversions or delays,” the FAA said.
For their part, the airline CEOs warn that “the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” if the 5G rollout proceeds. That could have far-reaching impacts for the U.S. supply chain. And it could wreak havoc with the delivery of medical supplies.
“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be… unusable, causing a much larger problem than what we knew,” the CEOs wrote. “Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.”
“Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they added.
FAA Has Only Cleared a Fraction of the Commercial Airplane Fleet to Land in 5G Areas
Meanwhile, the airline CEOs urged administration officials to take action. They want officials to make sure that 5G is not deployed where towers are too close to airport runways. At least, not until the FAA can figure out how to safely activate 5G in those areas.
The FAA says it has cleared roughly 45 percent of U.S. commercial airplanes. So those should be able to perform low-visibility landings at airports where 5G will take effect this Wednesday.
But as the airlines pointed out, that list does not include many large or hub airports.