AT&T and Verizon Communications on Tuesday agreed to temporarily defer turning on some wireless towers near key airports to avert a significant disruption to U.S. flights as they roll out 5G service that will bring faster wireless service to tens of millions of people.
President Joe Biden hailed the agreement, saying it “will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled.”
Late Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration updated its list of airports that planes with approved radio altimeter equipment could use to include major airports like New York’s JFK and LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, San Francisco and Seattle.
The FAA was also expected to update its list of Airbus and Boeing planes with the approved equipment in the coming hours. The updates should dramatically lessen the impact of the nearly 1,500 notices of 5G restrictions that the FAA had issued.
Airlines and the FAA warned that new restrictions as a result of 5G service, which AT&T and Verizon are to launch on Wednesday, would still prompt some flight disruptions. Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said while the wireless moves were a positive development, “some flight restrictions may remain.”
United Airlines told customers on a flight from Denver to Houston that a three-hour delay was a result of the new 5G systems, according to a notice on its website. It also suggested customers with any concerns reach out to the Federal Communications Commission.
The FAA has warned that 5G wireless interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as radio altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.
The FAA said it anticipated “there will be some impacts due to the limitations of some radio altimeters.”
Verizon will temporarily not turn on about 500 towers near airports, sources told Reuters, or less than 10% of their planned deployment, while the carriers and the administration work on a permanent solution, sources briefed on the matter said. Details of the agreement, including the length of the pause, were not disclosed.
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