Over worries about flight safety, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the director of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked AT&T and Verizon Communications to postpone the planned Jan. 5 launch of new 5G cellular service.
Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson requested AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for a two-week delay in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday as part of a “proposal as a near-term solution for furthering the coexistence of 5G deployment in the C-Band and safe flight operations.”
The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration have expressed worries about 5G’s possible interference with sensitive aircraft electronics such as radio altimeters, which could cause flight disruptions.
“We request that your enterprises continue to suspend introducing commercial C-Band service for an additional two weeks beyond the already anticipated deployment date of January 5,” the letter states.
Both Verizon and AT&T confirmed that they had received the letter and that they were reviewing it. The two businesses had before accused the aircraft sector of attempting to keep C-Band spectrum deployment “hostage” unless the wireless industry agreed to fund the expense of updating any outmoded altimeters.
“Commercial C-band service would commence as scheduled in January,” Buttigieg and Dickson stated, with some exclusions surrounding priority airports.
The FAA and the aviation industry would identify priority airports “where a buffer zone would allow aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its interference potential analyses.”
To enable most “big commercial aircraft to operate safely in all weather,” the government will attempt to establish “mitigations for all key airports.” This would allow for rolling deployment at “priority airports,” with the goal of activation by March 31 if no unforeseen obstacles arise.
The carriers had previously committed to take preventive measures for six months to limit interference after winning the spectrum in a $80 billion government auction.
Airlines for America petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday to prevent the rollout of new 5G wireless service at several airports, citing the risk of thousands of flights being disrupted: “On its own, the potential damage to the airline sector is enormous.”
The Transportation Department proposal, according to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, is “the right move to successfully implement 5G without using the travelling public (and the crews on their flights) as guinea pigs for two systems that must coexist without question for safety.”
Wireless industry group CTIA said 5G is safe and spectrum is being used in about 40 other countries.
House Transportation Committee chair Peter DeFazio Friday backed the airline group petition warning “we can’t afford to experiment with aviation safety.”