Buttigieg Asks AT&T and Verizon to Delay 5G Over Aviation Concerns

Bloomberg — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to delay a 5G wireless service set to commence next week that airlines say may pose a safety risk by interfering with aircraft electronics.

Without action, airlines could be forced into “widespread and unacceptable disruption,” Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a letter Friday to the wireless providers’ chief executives.

Airplanes could be diverted from airports where landings aren’t safe, “causing ripple effects throughout the U.S. air transportation system,” the two officials said.

The two-week delay requested by the Federal Communications Commission, starting Jan. 5, is part of a continuing debate about what impact wireless services might have. This argument pits the FAA and aviation communities, who raised safety concerns and argued against wireless providers and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which approved the new 5G service. The FCC stated that there is no danger to safety.
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Arguments revolve around radar altimeters, which are altitude-sensing instruments that use frequencies similar to those used by the 5G service. December 23rd, the FAA issued a warning that safety devices in aircraft could be affected by missing or wrong altimeter readings.

The wireless industry said power levels are low enough to preclude interference, and pointed out that 5G operations outside the U.S. haven’t harmed aviation. According to experts in the aerospace industry, power and frequency levels in other countries are significantly different than in America. In some instances, these nations have implemented protections that U.S. airlines have requested.

Continue reading: FAA Expands Alerts about 5G Interference with Aircraft

The U.S. officials in their Friday letter requested a delay of “no more than two weeks.” During that time, the FAA and the aviation industry will identify airports where a buffer zone would permit flights to continue safely.

In addition to the two-week delay, the transportation officials asked the companies to hold off on the new service near “priority airports.” The service could be activated near those airports on a rolling basis through March, they proposed.

This would allow most 5G users to use the service but protect critical runways, they stated. FAA stated that it was working with the FAA to prioritize airports and find mitigations that would allow commercial large aircraft to fly safely.

“This proposal minimizes and spreads the short-term economic and operational burden while permanent fixes are rapidly put into place,” Buttigieg and Dickson said. “It will still involve significant disruptions for aviation operations in the U.S., but represents a much better way forward than the current trajectory.”

AT&T and Verizon earlier postponed new service for a month, to Jan. 5, and said they would operate at reduced power in response to aviation concerns.

Verizon received the letter after 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and needs time to review it, said Rich Young, a spokesman for the company.

Kim Hart, an AT&T spokeswoman, said the company was reviewing the letter.

“Failure to reach a solution by Jan. 5 will force the U.S. aviation sector to take steps to protect the safety of the traveling public, particularly during periods of low visibility or inclement weather,” the two officials wrote in the letter.

‘Priority Airports’

The proposal “minimizes” the short-term economic burdens on the two companies while allowing the government to quickly assess risks and is “a much better way forward then the current trajectory,” the letter said.

Two of the top aviation regulators in America said that they recognize the need to move forward with 5G but also stated that it was necessary to preserve aviation safety.

“The United States has the safest aviation system in the world,” the letter said. “We achieve this every day by actively identifying risks and eliminating them.”

The possibility of aircraft equipment interfering with other aircraft has been a topic of concern for more than a year. However, detailed analysis of tower location and radio beam power levels can help to determine the risk. These detailed data have only recently been provided to the FAA.

The FAA is working with manufacturers of radar altimeters to better understand potential interference, but needs more time to identify “priority airports” and to complete technical work, the letter said.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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