Major U.S. telecommunications companies Verizon and AT&T agreed Tuesday to delay their deployment of new 5G mobile services around key airports after airline executives contended that the technology posed safety threats to airliners.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that the government's agreement with the telecom companies would "avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery" while allowing them to deploy more than 90% of their wireless towers on Wednesday as they had planned.
"This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption," Biden said, "and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans."
The two telecom firms reached agreement with federal authorities after major U.S. air carriers warned Monday that the country's commerce would "grind to a halt" if the 5G mobile technology were deployed near major airports. The White House did not say at how many airports the 5G technology is being delayed.
Biden thanked the mobile carriers for the delay and said negotiations would continue.
"My team has been engaging nonstop with the wireless carriers, airlines and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely coexist," he said. "And, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports."
The airlines say the new technology will interfere with safe flight operations, while the mobile carriers claim the airlines have known about the problem and failed to upgrade equipment on their aircraft to prevent flight problems.
The new high-speed 5G mobile service uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by altimeters — devices in cockpits that measure the height of aircraft above the ground.
AT&T and Verizon argue that their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics and that technology is being safely used in many other countries.
In a letter Monday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, chief executives at Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and seven other passenger and cargo carriers protested the mobile carriers' plan to roll out their upgraded service on Wednesday.
While the Federal Aviation Administration previously said it would not object to deployment of the 5G technology because the mobile carriers had pledged to address safety issues, the airline executives said aircraft manufacturers subsequently warned them that the Verizon and AT&T measures were not sufficient to allay those concerns.
The mobile companies said they would reduce power at 5G transmitters near airports, but the airlines have asked that the 5G technology not be activated within 3.2 kilometers of 50 major airports. The details of the telecoms' pullback around airports were not immediately known.
If the 5G technology is used, the airline executives contended, "multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable. Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded."
"Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies," the airline industry executives said.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.