Airlines threaten to ground planes over 5G C-Band go-live on January 19

Iphone 12 5g
Iphone 12 5g (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Airlines have effectively threatened to ground planes if 5G C-Band goes live on Wednesday.
  • Carriers have already said they won't enable masts around specific airports.
  • Airline CEOs have sent a letter asking for action to be taken before Wednesday's go-live.

Airlines are effectively threatening to ground planes if cellular carriers go ahead with plans to launch their 5G C-Band service on Wednesday as planned. The veiled threat was made in a letter seen by Reuters.

Carriers and airlines have been at war over plans to enable the 5G C-Band service for some time now with the former concerned that it will interfere with the in-flight systems of their planes. Now, with the go-live just hours away it seems that airlines are more concerned than ever despite carriers agreeing not to enable towers around a number of airports.

The full letter from airline CEOs, seemingly to anyone who will listen, is available in the tweet below.

We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA on January 19, 2022. This will allow 5G to be deployed while avoiding harmful impacts on the aviation industry, traveling public, supply chain, vaccine distribution, our workforce and broader economy. We further ask that the FAA immediately identify those base stations closest to key airport runways that need to be addressed to ensure safety and avoid disruption in a manner that is narrowly focused and consistent with the agreement established on January 3, 2022.

The letter goes on to say that "Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies."

That, on the face of things, reads like scare tactics and a threat that planes could be grounded if the 5G rollout isn't stopped. Whether that's something airlines are really considering isn't obvious right now, but it seems unlikely that the carriers will blink at this late stage. A statement from AT&T makes it seem even less likely.

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, since they have not utilized the two years they've had to responsibly plan for this deployment. 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.

For now, all eyes will be on the carriers come Wednesdasy — will 5G be enabled using the new C-Band spectrum and if so, will planes around the United States find themselves grounded as a result?

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.