United Airlines boss warns 5G rollout could be ‘catastrophic’

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Aviation officials have warned of the damaging effect of a new 5G wireless service – claiming it could delay, divert or cancel planes, and cause huge costs to passengers.

United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby said, after a US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, that the rollout of a new 5G frequency “would be a catastrophic failure of government”.

Two Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports have warned that the new 5G C-band service, which uses tall cell towers, threatens to interfere with the radio altimeter readings that pilots rely on, potentially causing “potential interference with key cockpit safety systems”.

AT&T and Verizon Communications have already delayed their planned 5 December rollout of the new 5G frequency band, due to the FAA’s concerns.

The C-Band frequency has been described as the “frequency that may save 5G in the US”. Much of the world of already uses the C-band with no reported impact on aviation.

The band operates safely and without causing harmful interference to aviation operations in nearly 40 countries around the world – including nearly two dozen in Europe, plus Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Oman, the UAE and other parts of the Middle East.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CITA), advocates representing the US wireless communications industry, believes 5G will help the US recover and grow economically.

“Delaying access to this spectrum has real impacts: every six-month delay in 5G deployment costs our nation’s economy $25bn in economic benefits over the next decade, risks America’s competitiveness, and jeopardises our ability to ensure global 5G leadership,” states CITA.

“The aviation industry’s fear-mongering relies on completely discredited information and deliberate distortions of fact,” claimed CTIA.

The new rollout is now planned for 5 January 2022 in the US.

“Unless something changes – we will not be able to use radio altimeters at 40-something of the largest airports in the country,” Mr Kirby said. “It is a certainty. This is not a debate.”

Trade association Airlines for America has stated that cargo operators are concerned the rollout could cost them “$400m annually,” while the impact to passengers would be in the region of “$1.59bn” worth of travel delays.

The Independent has contacted United Airlines and AT&T and Verizon Communications for further comment.