Airlines Warn of Potential for Major Disruptions from 5G

Airlines Ask U.S. for 5G Buffer Zone to Avoid Major Disruptions from January 19


Updated 1/18/22: AT&T and Verizon have voluntarily agreed to not roll out 5G within 2 miles of airports when launching 5G on 1/19/22. Verizon and AT&T didn't bother to hide their frustration, with Verizon noting that the FAA and U.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.” But Verizon fails to disclose that in the EU, 5G networks operate at lower frequencies than the ones Verizon and AT&T will be using, which reduces the risk of interference. In Europe, 5G towers can also operate at lower power.

Airlines are Imploring the Biden Administration and Dept. of Commerce to Block all 5G wireless within a two mile radius of all airport runways, due to the potential for thousands of flight cancellations and disruptions once AT&T and Verizon deploy 5G on Wednesday, January 19, 2022.

The letter, signed by Scott Kirby of United, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Ed Bastian of Delta, and the heads of Alaska Airlines, Atlas Air, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest, FedEx and UPS, requests the two mile radius buffer as an “immediate intervention” in order “to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies.”

It seems a bit strange that this letter is only being sent now, two days before 5G is supposed to roll out, already a nearly two week delay from its originally anticipated January 5, 2022 roll out. Why weren't there more tests of aircrafts' radio altimeters and other systems months prior? 5G technology was tested in parts of Europe in 2018 before being deployed in some cities as early as 2019. The FAA had years to test 5G with older altimeters, so it's befuddling how we got to this mad scramble.

But in any case, the airlines claim the problems are two-fold:

Many Airport Operations Subject to Disruption Due to Fleets Not Cleared to Fly

The FAA designated 50 airports that will at least initially have a 5G buffer, listed below. But to date, the FAA has only cleared ~45% of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low visibility landings at many of the airports where 5G will be deployed. Airline heads warn that “unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays.”

It appears that there are two things going on: 1) huge swathes of airlines' fleets aren't cleared yet by the FAA to perform low visibility landings; and 2) there are many airports outside the 50 that the FAA has designated to be buffered from 5G that will impact airline operations, since they won't be buffered and their disrupted operations can have knock-on effects for overall airline operations.

  • AUS
  • BED
  • BFI
  • BHM
  • BNA
  • BUR
  • CAK
  • CLT
  • DAL
  • DFW
  • DTW
  • EFD
  • EWR
  • FAT
  • FLL
  • HOU
  • HVN
  • IAH
  • IND
  • ISP
  • JFK
  • LAS
  • LAX
  • LGA
  • LGB
  • MCI
  • MCO
  • MDT
  • MDW
  • MFE
  • MIA
  • MSP
  • ONT
  • ORD
  • PAE
  • PBI
  • PHL
  • PHX
  • PIE
  • PIT
  • RDU
  • ROC
  • SEA
  • SFO
  • SJC
  • SNA
  • STL
  • SYR
  • TEB


Flight Restrictions Not Limited to Poor Weather Conditions

According to the airlines, “Because radio altimeters provide critical information to other safety and navigation systems in modern airplanes, multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew on January 5, 2022.” Hmm. At least to a layperson, it seems odd that the fact that radio altimeters inform other safety and navigation systems wasn't flagged months ago, let alone a couple weeks ago, when trying to negotiate a path forward for 5G vs. what airlines need to safely navigate, take-off, and land planes.

Airlines Ask U.S. for 5G Buffer Zone to Avoid Major Disruptions from January 19


The Upshot

Frankly, if you can avoid flying from or to a U.S. airport not only on 1/19/22 but for the week or so after it, or until the airlines, FAA and wireless companies figure out 5G mitigation efforts, we would recommend postponing travel. 5G disruptions are just what we *don't* need right now on top of Omicron and winter storm disruptions.

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