Aviation experts concerned 5G rollout near airports could compromise safety

Aviation leaders say radio altimeters used in low visibility approaches by planes could be interfered with

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Major telecommunication companies announced Tuesday that they will temporarily delay the launch of 5G service near major airports after an outcry by pilots and other aviation leaders of the potential dangers the technology poses to aircraft. 

The 5G network is expected to offer faster connectivity and download speeds to consumers, but the exact impacts to other equipment in the range of towers remain unknown. 

The Federal Aviation Administration identified 88 airports where certain aircraft models could be affected by 5G interference.

Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and current FlightAware spokeswoman, said pilots are concerned that planes’ radio altimeters will pick up on interference during landings.

"The altimeter is used a lot in low visibility approaches when you are close to the ground," Bangs said on America’s Weather Center. "The whole issue is about, could the 5G towers near airports interfere with the radio signal with the altimeters."

The FAA said they are aware of interference on Boeing’s 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10 airplanes and are looking into other models to determine if similar conditions exist.


Both AT&T and Verizon placed blame for the last-minute conundrum on the FAA.

AT&T released a statement that read in part: "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. We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers."

The Air Line Pilots Association, International applauded the last-minute announcement and said pilots have warned about the potential issues for years.

"As we have reiterated for years, the aviation community has been raising red flags about 5G interference with aircraft safety instruments—concerns that have been ignored by the Federal Communications Commission and the telecom companies, creating the mess we’re in today. The United States has the safest air transportation system in the world, and our trained-for-life pilots plan to keep it that way," Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said in a statement.

FOX News reported that aviation experts believe the interference could be significant enough to prevent engine and braking systems from transitioning into landing mode, which could delay an aircraft’s stopping.

The wireless carriers contend the 5G networks are safe around aircraft and pointed to more than 40 countries where towers are already in operation.

Several international airlines canceled flights into the United States because of the unclear guidance on the issue.

Airlines previously warned the Biden Administration that 5G cellular service towers near airports would cause commercial aircraft to "likely cease at night and in any weather where the pilot cannot see the runway."

The FAA said their experts have cleared an estimated 45 percent of the U.S. commercial planes to perform low-visibility landings at airports where the 5G network will be deployed.