WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The chief executives of major
U.S. passenger and cargo carriers on Monday warned of an
impending "catastrophic" aviation crisis in less than 36 hours,
when AT&T and Verizon are set to deploy new 5G
The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service set to begin
on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody
aircraft unusable, "could potentially strand tens of thousands
of Americans overseas" and cause "chaos" for U.S. flights.
"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority
of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be
grounded," wrote the chief executives of American Airlines
, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines,
Southwest Airlines and others in a letter first reported
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that
potential interference could affect sensitive airplane
instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper
"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," the letter https://twitter.com/davidshepardson/status/1483148794690740224?s=20
Airlines late on Monday were considering whether to begin
canceling some international flights that are scheduled to
arrive in the United States on Wednesday.
"With the proposed restrictions at selected airports, the
transportation industry is preparing for some service
disruption. We are optimistic that we can work across industries
and with government to finalize solutions that safely mitigate
as many schedule impacts as possible," plane maker Boeing
said on Monday.
Action is urgent, the airlines added in the letter also
signed by UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air
, JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express.
"To be blunt, the nations commerce will grind to a halt."
The letter went to White House National Economic Council
director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg,
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Airlines for America, the group that organized the letter,
declined to comment. The FAA said it "will continue to ensure
that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy
5G. The FAA continues to work with the aviation industry and
wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and
The other government agencies did not comment.
'INTERVENTION IS NEEDED'
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band
spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed
to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks
and take other steps to cut potential interference for six
months. They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until
Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff,
after previously delaying service by 30 days.
Verizon and AT&T declined comment on Monday. They argue
C-Band 5G has been successfully deployed in about 40 other
countries without aviation interference issues.
The CEOs of major airlines and Boeing Chief Executive Dave
Calhoun held a lengthy call with Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday
to warn of the looming crisis, officials told Reuters.
United Airlines late Monday separately warned the issue
could affect more than 15,000 of its flights, 1.25 million
passengers and snarl tons of cargo annually.
United said it faces "significant restrictions on 787s,
777s, 737s and regional aircraft in major cities like Houston,
Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago."
The airlines ask "that 5G be implemented everywhere in the
country except within the approximate 2 miles (3.2 km) of
airport runways" at some key airports.
"Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant
operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain
and delivery of needed medical supplies," they said.
The airlines added that flight restrictions will not be
limited to poor weather operations.
"Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed
unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew...
Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge
swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely
One area of concern is whether some or all Boeing 777s will
be unable to land at some key U.S. airports after 5G service
starts, as well as some Boeing cargo planes, airline officials
The airlines urged action to ensure "5G is deployed except
when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can
determine how that can be safely accomplished without
The FAA said on Sunday it had cleared an estimated 45% of
the U.S. commercial airplane fleet to perform low-visibility
landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed and
they expect to issue more approvals before Wednesday. The
airlines noted on Monday that the list did not include many
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bill
Berkrot and Gerry Doyle)