US airlines have warned that the imminent launch of 5G services could leave a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable.

Verizon and AT&T plan to rollout their new C-Band 5G service in the US tomorrow (January 19) after a two-week delay as a result of lobbying earlier this month. The telecoms companies had also agreed to buffer zones around 50 US airports to reduce interference risks.

Reuters reported that the chief executives of America’s major airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, warned senior Biden administration officials of the rollout in a letter, stating that it could “potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas”.

The letter, organised by lobbying group Airlines for America, was sent to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Steve Dickson, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica Rosenworcel and the director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” it stated.

The letter also requested that the 5G services not be implemented “within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA on January 19, 2022.”

According to Reuters, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that interference could affect airplane instruments such as altimeters and hamper low-visibility operations.

The FAA said yesterday that it had cleared an estimated 45 per cent of the US commercial plane fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where the 5G service will be deployed.

The agency also approved two radio altimeter models installed in a variety of Boeing and Airbus planes, adding that:

“This combination of aircraft and altimeter approval opens up runways at as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-band interference…

“Even with these new approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected. The FAA also continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was quoted in a Sky News report as stating:

“We are aware of reports that suggest that the frequency band being used for 5G in a number of countries could potentially pose a risk of interference with aircraft radio altimeters.

“There have been no reported incidents of aircraft systems being affected by 5G transmissions in UK airspace, but we are nonetheless working with Ofcom and the Ministry of Defence to make sure that the deployment of 5G in the UK does not cause any technical problems for aircraft.”

See our forum thread on the subject here.