US airlines warn that 5G deployment could cause chaos at airports

Lars Christensen /

The chief executives of major US airlines have issued a warning that a crisis of “catastrophic” proportions could happen in the airports when 5G connection is deployed on January 19, 2022 as planned.

Verizon and AT&T, which won nearly all of the 5G C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction in 2021, have already postponed the launch of their new C-Band service twice at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

On January 17, 2022, leaders of major airlines and cargo companies in the US wrote a letter addressed to White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

In the letter, which was seen by Reuters, the airline and cargo leaders said that aircraft manufacturers had informed them in recent weeks that the measures promised by Verizon and AT&T were not enough to prevent interference with aircraft sensors. 

Airlines for America, a group that represents major North American airlines, organized the letter. 

The organization said that because of the risk of 5G interference, the FAA is preparing to put in place safety restrictions that will be highly disruptive to airline passengers and the shipping public. FAA’s most current airworthiness notification is about the possible interference of 5A to Boeing 787 aircraft. 

Airlines for America estimates that if the FAA’s safety restrictions were in place prior to the pandemic, 32 million passengers and customers will be impacted, 345,000 US passenger flights and 540 flights would have been delayed, diverted, or canceled, and it would cost $1.59 billion per year in disruption costs for passengers.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines (A1G) (AAL), Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines (LUV) and others.

The airlines are requesting “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.”

On January 16, 2022, the FAA had stated that it had cleared about 45% of the US commercial fleet to perform low visibility operations on airports where 5G will be rolled out. However, the administration had also issued an airworthiness notification that operators of Boeing 787s are required to take additional precautions when landing on wet or snowy runways at airports where 5G C-band service is deployed.


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