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Last-ditch airline protest forces delay to 5G rollout near US airports

Telecoms giants AT&T and Verizon are to scale back or delay the launch of 5G wireless service near US airport runways after a last-ditch protest from airlines.

Leading US carriers had warned that the introduction of high-speed 5G technology, scheduled for today (Wednesday), could interfere with aircraft safety and navigation systems, creating chaos.

United Airlines and American Airlines said they were preparing to cancel flights if the introduction went ahead, the Financial Times reported.

AT&T said it had voluntarily agreed to “temporarily defer turning on” a limited number of 5G-enabled towers around “certain airport runways” as it provides more information to airlines and regulators, but added it was launching its advanced 5G services elsewhere as planned.

Verizon also said it would launch a 5G network on Wednesday, but had voluntarily decided to limit it “around airports”.

Both telecoms companies voiced frustration with US regulators after having repeatedly delayed their planned launch of 5G services — first from December 5 to January 5 and then for two more weeks, at the request of regulators.

President Joe Biden said the telecoms companies’ concession to limiting 5G services “protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans”.

Prior to the postponement, US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow joined carriers in demanding a delay until critical operational concerns can be resolved.

He said: “The implementation of 5G around affected airports threatens to disrupt domestic and international air travel, delay thousands of passengers, and cause unnecessary economic harm to the nation and the entire travel industry – not just airlines.

“Now is not the time to take such significant risks. We strongly urge the US government and mobile wireless carriers to act immediately to delay the implementation of 5G around affected airports identified by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].”

Aviation officials warned that 5G could threaten the accuracy of altimeters, which measure an aircraft’s altitude and are critical for taking off and landing in poor weather.

Verizon said: “The Federal Aviation Administration and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”

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