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Pete Buttigieg calls on AT&T and Verizon to delay 5G wireless rollout on airplanes over possible safety concerns

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

  • Buttigieg and the Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter to AT&T and Verizon requesting a two-week delay of its 5G rollout. 
  • The letter cites concern over “widespread and unacceptable disruption” that could cause “ripple effects throughout the U.S. air transportation system.”
  • The aviation and wireless industries have been at odds over the potential for 5G services to interfere with aircraft electronics. 

AT&T and Verizon Communications are reviewing a request from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to delay the rollout of  5G wireless services on airplanes that was slated to begin next week, the two wireless carriers told Insider on Saturday.

Buttigieg teamed with Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to send a letter to AT&T and Verizon on Friday asking for a two-week delay to better assess potential interference to aircraft electronics, according to Bloomberg.

In the letter seen by Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Dickson wrote that the implementation of 5G service could cause “widespread and unacceptable disruption,” including rerouting airplanes to locations where landings may not be safe “causing ripple effects throughout the U.S. air transportation system.”

Representatives for AT&T and Verizon Communications both told Insider that they received the letter and are in the process of reviewing it.

The Verizon spokesperson added: “However, if the airlines are so concerned about flight cancellations related to 5G, they should really look at their track record over the past two weeks. This industry which got a $54 billion taxpayer-funded, government bail out over the past couple years clearly has much bigger issues to worry about.”   

Friday’s letter from Buttigieg and the FAA comes amid mass travel delays and cancelations within the airline industry, largely stemming from staffing shortages caused by the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Airlines have canceled an estimated 20,000 flights since Christmas Eve, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. 

The CEOs of Boeing and Airbus, the world’s largest airplane manufacturers, wrote to Buttigieg last month imploring him to delay the rollout of 5G wireless service on aircraft, citing ongoing safety concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration. 

“5G interference could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate,” the letter, which was seen by Reuters, said. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and Airbus Americas CEO Jeffrey Knittel also noted 5G could have an “enormous negative impact on the aviation industry.”

The 5G service had initially been planned to launch in November but was pushed to January 5 after the FAA and other members of the airline industry voiced concerns with the service, including its potential to interfere with airplane altimeters, a device used to measure aircraft altitude.  

“The aerospace industry is focused on fully evaluating and addressing the potential for 5G interference with radio altimeters,” a Boeing spokesperson told Insider last month. “We are collaborating with aviation authorities, government leaders, airlines, and industry groups to ensure the continued operational safety of aircraft throughout the aviation system worldwide.”

Meanwhile, the wireless industry has argued that the power levels are too low to cause disruptions, and pointed to the success of the rollout in other countries. 

“The aviation industry’s fearmongering relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact,” Nick Ludlum, a spokesman for the wireless industry group CTIA, told The Wall Street Journal last month. 




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