Planned 5G Wireless Deployment Could Compromise Airline Safety, Aviation Executives Warn

Aviation executives expressed their fears Monday that the potential coming deployment of 5G wireless technology could harm the airline industry.

In a joint letter acquired by Reuters addressed to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and Airbus Americas CEO Jeffrey Knittel urged DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg to postpone the upcoming rollout of the technology, citing multiple concerns.

"5G interference could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate," the letter stated, adding that the rollout of the technology could have "an enormous negative impact on the aviation industry."

Both AT&T and Verizon are planning to deploy C-band spectrum 5G wireless networks across the United States on Jan. 5.

The technology was originally slated to go online in November, but the companies agreed to push the date into 2022 after concerns were cited, and now the airline executives are hoping to slide that date even further down the calendar.

The airplane manufacturers, who are typically considered direct competitors, came together in a rare show of unity to voice concerns that the 5G initiative could lead to numerous delays at airports throughout the country.

The pair of companies represent the vast majority of the airplanes built for commercial aviation use, and they also have a large market share of military aircraft.

Airbus Boeing
Executives from Airbus and Boeing sent a letter to the government urging the Department of Transportation to push back the rollout of 5G networks, citing concerns over aviation safety. Here, the logos of Airbus and Boeing can be seen. Christof Stache/Getty

The letter from Boeing and Airbus cited a statistic from trade group Airlines for America, which stated that if 5G had been in effect in 2019, it would've resulted in the delay or cancellation of 345,000 passenger flights and 5,400 cargo flights.

The sentiment from the airline executives echoed a report released Dec. 7 from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that said 5G technology could lead to scheduling problems and safety issues in the skies.

After issuing its report, the FAA went on to present a pair of airworthiness directives that would prohibit aircraft from operating certain radio functions while in the area of 5G signals.

"Because radio altimeter anomalies that are undetected by the aircraft automation or pilot, particularly close to the ground ... could lead to loss of continued safe flight and landing," one of the directives stated.

However, the FAA later issued a statement in which it said that the "expansion of 5G and aviation will safely co-exist."

Verizon also released a statement pushing back against the FAA guidelines, stating that "there is no evidence that 5G operations using C-band spectrum pose any risk to aviation safety, as the real-world experience in dozens of countries already using this spectrum for 5G confirms."

The communications giant added that it was taking "additional steps to minimize energy coming from 5G base stations."

However, in spite of the statements released by multiple parties, the Air Line Pilots Association stated Monday that the discussions regarding 5G were at a stalemate, adding that it was "a big problem for passengers, shippers and the American economy."

Newsweek has reached out to the DOT for comment.