AT&T, Verizon delay rollout of 5G near airports as airlines warn of 'incalculable' damage to economy
AT&T and Verizon will hold off on rolling out 5G within 2 miles of airports when the rest of their 5G networks go live Wednesday – a move lauded by the White House.
"As the nation’s leading wireless provider, we have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports," Verizon said Tuesday. "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries."
AT&T expressed similar frustration.
"At our sole discretion, we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment," an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY. "We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”
President Joe Biden thanked the wireless carriers for their decision a day after CEOs of the nation's largest airlines and shipping carriers asked federal authorities for "immediate intervention" to block AT&T and Verizon from launching part of the highly anticipated network within 2 miles of airports.
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"This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled," Biden said in a statement. "This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans."
At issue is 5G's C-Band, on which wireless carriers invested billions of dollars last year. Rollout is slated to begin for the rest of the nation Wednesday, but industry group Airlines for America warned the frequency could interfere with devices that measure airplane altitude and impact safety near airports.
"Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded," Airlines for America wrote Monday in a letter signed by the CEOs of Delta, American, United, Southwest, FedEx, UPS and others, who serve on the group's board.
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"Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments, planes and crews where they need to be," the letter said. "To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt."
The letter was sent "with urgency" to the heads of the Department of Transportation, FAA, Federal Communications Commission and National Economic Council, requesting "whatever action necessary to ensure that 5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption."
The FAA is studying the potential impacts of 5G on flights and preemptively ordered some Boeing 787 operators to take extra precautions when landing.
Wednesday's rollout had already been pushed back two weeks at the request of FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to avoid “unacceptable disruption” to aviation.
"We recognize the economic importance of expanding 5G, and we appreciate the wireless companies working with us to protect the flying public and the country’s supply chain," Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday.
"With safety as its core mission, the FAA will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G," the FAA said in a statement.
AT&T and Verizon have stood by the safety of 5G.
Contributing: Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press