Jan 17, 2022 - Economy

Airlines call for Biden admin's "immediate intervention" in 5G deployment

 Airplane runway covered with snow at Newark Liberty International Airport on January 7, 2022 in New Jersey, United States as massive snow storm hits the east coast.

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The CEOs of leading U.S. air cargo and passenger carriers on Monday warned the Biden administration there could be "catastrophic disruption" after AT&T and Verizon deploy a new 5G service this week.

Driving the news: They said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other top federal officials ahead of the C-Band 5G service's deployment Wednesday that "the nation's commerce will grind to a halt" and "could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas."

  • They're calling on the Biden administration's "immediate intervention" in the matter to "avoid significant operational disruption" and ensure "that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways" at affected airports, according to the letter, first reported by Reuters.
  • "Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," states the letter, from CEOs of firms including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

For the record: The Federal Aviation Administration cleared about 45% of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings "at many of the airports where 5G C-band will be deployed on Jan. 19," per an FAA statement.

Context: There's been an ongoing dispute between wireless carriers and the aviation industry over the 5G service, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill notes.

  • The FAA has warned previously that potential interference from 5G signals, especially in bad weather, could cause flight cancellations or force planes to divert to different airports.

The other side: Verizon and AT&T have previously committed to creating buffer zones around certain airports for six months to reduce interference risks, along with other safety measures.

  • They also delayed the planned deployment of the services following a request from Buttigieg to address airline industry concerns.
  • Representatives for Verizon and AT&T and the Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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