Jan 18, 2022 - Economy & Business

Airlines curtail 5G expansion plans in U.S.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pressure from airlines and air cargo carriers once again slowed 5G expansion plans in the U.S.

Why it matters: The country’s already-strained air transport sector (from the Boeing 737 MAX crisis to the pandemic) can’t afford more disruptions.

  • Some 85% of all presently registered aircraft or rotorcraft could be impacted by the deployment of 5G technology, Robert Mann Jr., an airline industry consultant, tells Axios. 

Catch up quick: AT&T and Verizon will delay activating 5G signals near certain airports.

  • On Monday, nearly a dozen airline CEOs objected to the deployment of the cellular technology scheduled for Wednesday. 
  • The group said in a letter to four federal agencies that going ahead would cause “catastrophic disruption” and “economic calamity.”

The big picture: The use of 5G C-Band technology could interfere with key flight instruments and impact low-visibility flights, the Federal Aviation Administration has warned

  • As a result, the FAA put additional restrictions on aircraft flying into certain airports, particularly during bad weather.

Threat level: "Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," the airlines wrote.

What to watch: President Biden weighed in on the agreement to delay saying it will "avoid potentially devastating disruptions" to travel while still allowing "more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled."

The bottom line: The airline industry is one "that relies on the presumption of 100% safety as its basis for existence," says Mann.

  • That's now going up against a telecom industry that wants to “see a return on its $81 billion investment in 5G in part by helping people download movies faster,” he adds.
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