AT&T careers(T.N) and Verizon Communications (VZ.N) CEOs rejected a request to delay the planned Jan. 5 launch of the new 5G wireless service due to aviation safety concerns but offered to temporarily implement new safeguards.
Late Friday, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson asked AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon jobs CEO Hans Vestberg for a commercial deployment delay of no more than two weeks.
In a joint letter on Sunday, the wireless companies said they would not deploy 5G around airports for six months but rejected any broader limitation on using the C-Band spectrum. They said the Transportation Department proposal would be “an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks.”
The aviation industry and the Federal aviation administration have expressed concern about potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft electronics such as radio altimeters, which could cause flights to be disrupted. The exclusion zone proposed by AT&T and Verizon is already in use in France, the carriers said, “with slight adaptation” to account for “modest technical differences in how C-band is deployed.”
“The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France,” the CEOs wrote. “If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States.“
In a statement on Sunday, the FAA said that it was “reviewing the latest letter from the wireless companies on how to mitigate interference from 5G C-band transmissions. U.S. aviation safety standards will guide our next actions.“
According to FAA officials, France uses spectrum for 5G that is separated from spectrum used for radio altimeters and uses lower power levels for 5G than those authorized in the US.
Verizon stated that it will initially only use spectrum in the same range as used in France and that it will be a few years before it uses additional spectrum. According to Verizon, the larger exclusion zone around US airports is intended to “compensate for the slight difference in power levels between the two nations,” according to Verizon.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), representing 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, wrote on Twitter that pilots, airlines, manufacturers, and others should be concerned “Aside from SAFETY, there is NO reason to delay 5G. What do they think… we’re bringing these issues up during the holidays for fun?”
The Air Line Pilots Association also supported the postponement. According to government and industry officials, the exclusion zones proposed by wireless carriers are not as large as those sought by the FAA.
On Friday, the FAA and Buttigieg proposed designating priority airports “where a buffer zone would allow aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential.”
The wireless carriers, who won the C-Band spectrum in a $80 billion government auction, previously agreed to six months of preventive measures to limit interference, but say the upgrades are necessary to compete with other countries such as China and to enable remote working.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines (AAL.O), FedEx (FDX.N), and other carriers, asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday to halt deployment around many airports, warning that thousands of flights could be disrupted daily.
If the FCC does not act, the airline group has stated that it will go to court on Monday. The group urged the FCC and telecom companies to collaborate with the FAA and the aviation industry to “enable the rollout of 5G technology while prioritizing safety and avoiding any disruption to the aviation system.” An FCC spokesperson said Sunday the agency is “optimistic that by working together, we can both advance the wireless economy and ensure aviation safety.”
Wireless industry group CTIA said 5G is safe and spectrum is being used in about 40 other countries.