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Verizon and AT&T agree to delay launch of 5G service near airports after airlines warned of massive flight disruptions

United Airlines planes are seen at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, United States on September 29, 2021. United Airlines is firing employees over its vaccine mandate.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

  • Verizon and AT&T said they’ll delay rolling out 5G near airports but go ahead with deployment plans elsewhere.
  • The news comes after major airlines warned 5G deployment would cause massive flight disruptions.
  • The aviation industry has long raised concerns that 5G frequencies could interfere with plane safety systems.

Cell carriers are delaying their rollout of 5G service near airports after airlines warned the deployment would spell “catastrophic disruption” for the aviation industry.

Verizon and AT&T said Tuesday they will temporarily hold off on deploying C-band 5G technology near airports but will otherwise roll out as planned on Wednesday.

“As the nation’s leading wireless provider, we have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports,” Verizon said in a statement 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 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 told Insider in a statement.

“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” the AT&T statement continued. “We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

President Biden thanked Verizon and AT&T for their decision to delay.

“This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled,” Biden said in a statement released Tuesday. “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.”

Biden added that his team is working with cell carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to “close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports.”

In a letter sent Monday by trade organization Airlines for America, the leaders of 10 major US carriers warned that rolling out 5G too close to airport runways would harm “the aviation industry, traveling public, supply chain, vaccine distribution, our workforce and broader economy.”

“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 reads. “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”

The airlines requested that 5G not be deployed within two miles of key airport runways.

The letter’s signatories included carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, FedEx Express, and UPS Airlines. The letter was addressed to White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, and Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Earlier this month, Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay the rollout by two weeks at Buttigieg’s request after the Transportation Secretary cited concerns that the new 5G frequencies could interfere with planes’ safety systems. The companies had initially rejected the request.

The FAA and Airlines for America did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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