Biden Hails 5G Delay From Verizon and AT&T in Aviation Dispute
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden hailed an accord with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to delay by two weeks a new 5G service so airlines and safety officials can take steps to prevent interference with aircraft electronics.
The companies issued separate statements late Monday agreeing to the delay two days before their planned Jan. 5 launch. The action came after a flurry of calls directed at the industry and the White House from aviation groups and as airlines threatened legal action.
AT&T and Verizon agreed to continue during the delay “to work in good faith with aviation stakeholders” on ways to mitigate the potential for interference with individual radar altimeter models and at specific airport locations, according to a letter and terms circulated Tuesday by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator.
As part of the agreement, the Biden administration won’t seek further delay in deploying 5G service in the frequencies at issue, the letter said. The assurance is subject to “any unforeseen aviation safety issues,” according to the term sheet.
Biden in a statement Tuesday called the pact “a significant step in the right direction.”
“This agreement ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19th,” Biden said in the statement.
Verizon Chief Executive Officer Hans Vestberg explained the delay to employees in an email Tuesday.
“We felt that it was the right thing to do for the flying public, which includes our customers and all of us, to give the FAA a little time to work out its issues with the aviation community and therefore avoid further inconveniencing passengers with additional flight delays,” Vestberg said in a note distributed by Verizon.
Before the agreement, aviation regulators had been planning to issue hundreds of notices with specific restrictions for airport runways, heliports and other flight routes, which it said could cause significant disruptions to the aviation system.
While the FAA has said it plans to issue flight restrictions once the 5G signals are switched on near runways, it will allow altimeter manufacturers to demonstrate they can function safely in the new environment or apply patches to the equipment to shield it from interference.
The issue involves a new band of faster 5G wireless service that is located near frequencies used by aircraft equipment to compute altitude. Aviation groups and the FAA fear it could compromise safety, especially in low visibility conditions. The wireless companies and the Federal Communications Commission, which approved the service, have said there isn’t a risk.
“It’s clear that this irresponsible rollout of 5G wasn’t ready for takeoff,” Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in a statement. “Now the real work begins.”
The agreements lift the prospect of litigation that would seek to force the FCC to halt the wireless providers’ airwaves use, according to an airline official who asked not to be identified.
Litigation could still go forward if the two-week pause doesn’t result in agreements on methods to protect planes at airports, the official added.
Verizon rose 1% and AT&T was up 1.4% at 11:50 a.m. in New York.
The wireless providers committed to not deploy towers near certain airports for six months if the aviation industry agrees not to escalate its campaign against the new service. The offer is modeled after exclusion zones at airports in France, where 5G service is working on similar frequencies and U.S. airliners have landed.
Buttigieg and Dickson on Friday had asked for a delay so the government could have more time to assess risks, but they said they were doing so to help ensure a smooth rollout of the service. The companies initially said on Sunday they wouldn’t delay the service, but reversed course late on Monday.
The companies have agreed to additional actions that will be in place for six months around 50 airports identified as having the greatest impact to the U.S. aviation, according to the FAA.
One area that’s not addressed in the agreement is helicopter operations. Many commercial helicopter operations are required by the FAA to have functioning radar altimeters. The wireless companies and FAA are continuing to examine how to allow them to function, according to the letter.
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