Airline officials express concerns over flight disruptions tied to 5G service

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Potential issues could lead to billions in losses

Airlines are waving the caution flag on 5G service, fearing that when the wireless service gets updated in January 2022, it could create extensive flight delays in situations like snowstorms and low visibility. 

The reason? Officials say the new wireless signals could hamper the effectiveness of equipment on planes and helicopters used to track aircraft altitude.

Billions lost in flight disruptions

With a Jan. 5 launch day looming, the White House, industry groups, and aviation regulators are rushing to come to some form of agreement. To help out, AT&T and Verizon have offered power reductions in their new 5G services, but the aviation industry says those cuts are “inadequate.”

Aviation trade group Airlines for America says the 5G conflict could cost as much as $2.1 billion in flight disruptions. 

“If you were to ask us what our number one concern is in the near term, it is the deployment of 5G,” Southwest Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in testimony given at a Senate hearing earlier this month. 

Unfounded fears?

While many airline officials continue to worry about this issue, some people in the wireless industry say fears about 5G are completely unfounded.

“The aviation industry’s fear-mongering relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact,” Nick Ludlum, a senior vice president at the trade group CTIA, which includes AT&T and Verizon as members, told Bloomberg News. “5G operates safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation operations in nearly 40 countries around the world,” Ludlum said. “U.S. airlines fly in and out of these countries every day.”

Only weeks ago, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was concerned about interference from the 5G wireless spectrum, but it now believes the expansion of 5G and aviation can safely co-exist.

“Today, we took an important step toward that goal by issuing two airworthiness directives to provide a framework and to gather more information to avoid potential effects on aviation safety equipment,” the agency said in a statement. “The FAA is working closely with the Federal Communications Commission and wireless companies, and has made progress toward safely implementing the 5G expansion. We are confident with ongoing collaboration we will reach this shared goal.”

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