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Airlines warned of increased flight delays after AT&T and Verizon Communications brushed aside a U.S. government request to postpone new 5G service that aviation interests say risks safety because it may interfere with aircraft electronics.
The two wireless companies on Sunday said the request from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, would be “to the detriment of” millions of mobile customers.
The companies said they might offer a six-month pause near some airports.
The FAA and DOT were considering the response Sunday, but airlines and regulators predicted substantial impacts on flight schedules if there aren’t some adjustments to the 5G service set to start Jan. 5.
The Airlines for America trade group, using worst-case assumptions, said there could be as many as 350,000 commercial flights affected per year at a cost of $2.1 billion.
“Without appropriate mitigations, the 5G deployment around airports could disrupt as many as 345,000 passenger flights — impacting 32 million travelers — in addition to 5,400 cargo flights each year in the form of delays, diversions or cancellations,” Airlines for America said in a statement Sunday.
Airlines already has seen massive flight delays and cancellations worldwide in recent weeks due to an increase in travelers, winter storms and fewer staff for airlines and the Transportation Security Administration.
The new 5G signals would use a set of airwaves made available to mobile communications providers. The frequencies are near those used by altitude-sensing radar altimeters.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have said that creates a chance of interference that could leave some landings unsafe.
The wireless industry said power levels are low enough to preclude interference, and the gap between frequencies is sufficiently large to ensure safety.
The carriers on Sunday cast the 5G rollout as a priority, citing a race with China to offer extensive high-speed mobile broadband, and escalating demand for wireless service amid the COVID-19 pandemic.