5G Truce Should Avoid Many Flight Disruptions, But Not All

A truce reached this week in deadlock over new 5G service and aviation security will prevent serious disruption to air travel, but remains likely to lead to cancellations, delays and hijacked flights, the industry said. aviation and government officials.

An agreement by AT&T Inc.

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and Verizon Communications Inc.

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Postponing their planned 5G deployments until Jan. 19 will give the Federal Aviation Administration more time to address its safety concerns and more tightly tailor flight restrictions to protect planes from possible interference from new wireless signals.

Transportation officials, to get another shutdown of wireless companies technically under the jurisdiction of another agency, have agreed to “not investigate or demand further delays,” according to a conditions sheet reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. The deal with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Chief Steve Dickson also requires carriers to limit their cellular signals near airports for six months, incorporating operators’ earlier proposals.

While the aviation industry and government officials view disruption to 5G travel as inevitable, they say the extent of flight restrictions will depend on continued behind-the-scenes cooperation between aviation safety regulators, spectrum experts from telecommunications companies and engineers from aerospace manufacturers.

The goal is to establish buffer zones around certain US airports to address FAA security concerns while allowing mobile providers to deploy faster service to as many customers as possible. The FAA is concerned that the new cellular signals could interfere with key flight deck security systems. US wireless executives have challenged these claims while recognizing the need to avoid disrupting air traffic.

“We felt it was the right thing to do for the flying public, which includes our customers and all of us, to give the FAA some time to resolve its issues with the aviation community and therefore avoid further disturbing aircraft. passengers with an additional flight. delays ”, Verizon VZ 1.03%

Managing Director Hans Vestberg wrote in a note to employees on Tuesday.

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and AT&T on Monday agreed to the two-week deadline Mr Buttigieg requested after previously denying the request. The last-minute maneuver included an FAA decision to go ahead with potentially major flight restrictions due to go into effect on Wednesday, and the threat of a commercial group of airlines to seek an emergency order. court, according to people familiar with the matter. The FAA and the trade group both resisted in the end.

President Biden praised the deal on Tuesday, saying in a statement: “This deal ensures that there will be no disruption to flight operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to dramatically reduce disruption. flight operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G. “

The FAA has expressed concern about potential interference with radar altimeters, which measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground.

As part of the deal, the FAA will offer up to 50 priority airports that will be subject to company-specific wireless limits for 5G signals for six months. Negotiations focused on the size of the protective buffer zones, among other technical details, people familiar with the matter said.

As part of the deal, the FAA will offer up to 50 priority airports that will be subject to company-specific wireless limits for 5G signals for six months.


Wilfredo Lee / Associated press

Telecom companies will also provide the FAA with information on where and how they will deploy the new 5G service in the first half of the year, according to the conditions sheet. Meanwhile, the FAA will work to validate airports and some radar altimeters are safe, potentially reducing disruption, while aerospace manufacturers conduct additional testing.

“This is not a problem that will be solved in two weeks,” said Eric Fanning, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “But an important part of this agreement is to share information, which allows for more efficient testing.”

Some AT&T and Verizon customers have already started seeing 5G icons on their smartphones, indicating that their provider has improved their internet service using the latest technical standards. The two companies had planned to improve this fifth-generation service at the start of winter using the wireless licenses they acquired last year.

Verizon has spent about $ 53 billion on licenses and other payments to secure the airwaves, more than any other operator, and relies on them to keep its cellphone customers happy. It also plans to use them to stream home internet service in some residential areas where cable broadband is not available or is too expensive. The wireless company said on Tuesday that activating the new signals later this month would cover 100 million people with access to speeds up to 10 times faster than existing 4G service.

The deal for the latest delay began to take shape on Sunday evening. After the telecommunications companies rejected the initial request from U.S. transportation officials, Mr. Buttigieg called their CEOs on Sunday evening, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Mr Buttigieg said aviation safety regulators would accept six months of limited wireless signals under rules similar to those proposed by operators, modeled roughly on France’s approach, on condition that operators maintain service offline for another two weeks, the people said.

AT&T CEO told Buttigieg the terms seemed reasonable, some of those people said. The company told an airline trading group on Monday it would agree to a two-week break, people familiar with the matter said.

On Monday, the FAA was preparing to issue around 1,300 official notices that would include restrictions on pilots landing in inclement weather from Wednesday, people familiar with the matter said. The limits would add to recent travel issues in the United States: flight cancellations and delays due to staff issues related to the pandemic and winter weather conditions.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. passenger and freight carriers, was set to ask a federal court in Washington to block the 5G expansion, people familiar with the matter said. But officials in the Biden administration have asked the trade group to suspend talks while talks continue with Verizon, according to aviation industry and government officials.

Meanwhile, the aviation groups have made a public relations effort. They highlighted the dire forecasts of air traffic disruptions and called on the White House to intervene.

As Monday night wore on, the airlines trade group agreed to stay its litigation, according to aviation and government officials. Later that evening, Verizon joined AT&T and announced that it had agreed to wait another two weeks.

Write to Andrew Tangel at [email protected] and Drew FitzGerald at [email protected]

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