US airlines have warned of aviation chaos in less than 36 hours with the deployment of new 5G service by telecoms firms AT&T and Verizon.
The new C-Band 5G service set to begin on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas”.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others in a letter first reported by Reuters.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive aircraft instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the letter to Washington regulators from trade body Airlines for America said.
“Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swathes of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.
“In addition to the chaos caused domestically, this lack of usable widebody aircraft could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas.”
Carriers were reported to be considering whether to start cancelling some international flights that are scheduled to arrive in the US on Wednesday.
“With the proposed restrictions at selected airports, the transportation industry is preparing for some service disruption. We are optimistic that we can work across industries and with government to finalise solutions that safely mitigate as many schedule impacts as possible,” Boeing said.
The letter warned: The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable. Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments and crews where they need to be.
“To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
The letter was sent to White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel.
The FAA said it “will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G. The FAA continues to work with the aviation industry and wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and cancellations.”