MORRISVILLE – Airlines and other airline industry groups have warned there could be chaos in the skies and of potential “catastrophic disruption” due to the deployment and rollout of additional 5G technology known as C-band from wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon.

However, an AT&T spokesperson told WRAL TechWire that neither airlines or the FAA “utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment.”

Executives at airlines such as Southwest, United, Delta, and American all operate flights to and from Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) and expressed their latest concerns in a letter, dated Monday. It was addressed to National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, and Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the FCC.

According to the text of the letter, which was obtained by Politico, “commercial aviation in the United States is facing major disruption of the traveling and shipping public based on our evaluation of the data and discussions that have been ongoing to resolve the issue of how best to deploy 5G “C-band” in a safe manner around U.S. airports.”

Reuters also reported on the letter sent by the 10 airline executives and the leader of a trade organization, which requests that federal officials “take whatever action necessary to ensure that 5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”

RDU, AT&T, and Verizon

Raleigh-Durham Airport appears on a list of 50 airports that will have a “5G Buffer,” according to the FAA.

“RDU is watching the issue closely, and is keeping apprised of developments through the Airports Council International,” Stephanie Hawco, the director of media relations for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, told WRAL TechWire Tuesday.  “We’re in direct contact with them on a regular basis.”

Earlier this month, AT&T and Verizon previously agreed to postpone the rollout of the wireless 5G C-band technology by two weeks.

“At our sole discretion we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment,” a spokesperson for AT&T told WRAL TechWire Tuesday.  “They have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” the spokesperson said.

5G rollout near airports delayed after plea about safety risk to AT&T, Verizon

Monday’s letter was also signed by the chief executive for Airlines for America, a trade group for large U.S. passenger and cargo carriers, and was sent on letterhead from the organization.  The trade group had previously argued, in an emergency filing, that the FCC had failed to adequately consider the harm that 5G service could do to the airline industry, as reported by the Associated Press.

“We have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports,” a spokesperson for Verizon told WRAL TechWire this week.   “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 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.”

The spokesperson for Verizon added that delivering this 5G technology promises “a revolutionary next step in wireless communications” and noted that the company still plans to launch its 5G Ultra Wideband network on Wednesday.

“We’re watching it closely,” said Hawco.  “It’s really an issue between the wireless companies and the FAA.”

5G C-band

Wireless providers will use radio frequencies, collectively known as the C-Band, for increased and greater 5G signal connectivity.  CNET reported earlier this month that “C-band is expected to give both AT&T and Verizon 5G customers wider coverage and higher speeds.”

In the Triangle, T-Mobile has also invested in 5G technology and rollout.

“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” said the AT&T spokesperson.  “We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

C-band signals balance cellular range and capacity, operating between a frequency range of 3.7 and 3.98GHz, also called “midband spectrum,” according to CNET.

But this frequency is close to the frequencies that are used in the airline industry for aircraft altimeters. They  are separated, intentionally, by “a so-called guard band — essentially “blank” airwaves — to safeguard against interference,” according to CNN.

CNET states that the airline industry uses frequencies between 4.2 to 4.4GHz spectrum.  An altimeter is an instrument that measures altitude, which is important in order to operate and navigate an aircraft safely, including during landing.

5G & flying: What you should know about possible disruption