What would you say is the most pressing concern for airline executives right now, if you had to guess? Is Omicron causing a decrease in holiday travel demand? Passengers who are rude and refuse to put on their masks?
In truth, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with Covid: Specifically, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told senators last week that the advent of a new 5G wireless service from AT&T and Verizon on January 5 is the main source of anxiety for his company’s employees. It has been argued by the aviation industry that this deployment will interfere with critical cockpit systems and cause significant disruptions for travellers in the new year.
Approximately 4% of daily flights could be delayed, diverted, or cancelled as a result of the 5G rollout, according to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.
According to the trade association Airlines for America, 5G-related delays will cost passengers $1.6 billion per year.
What is it about 5G and cockpits that makes them so incompatible?
Airline executives fear that 5G signals, which operate in a spectrum of radio frequencies known as the C-band, would interfere with cockpit equipment that are used to track a plane’s height and assist with landings in adverse weather. 5G signals are expected to be available by 2020. As a result, if such systems are interfered with and severe fog rolls into Chicago, landings at O’Hare International Airport may be deemed dangerous, causing scheduling chaos across the country.
In response to these worries, leaders in the telecommunications industry are playing the world’s tiniest violin. In order to obtain the rights to this C-band spectrum, wireless companies paid at least $81 billion, and they are not going to allow airline executives to derail their much-hyped push into next-generation wireless networks…especially when they believe the airline executives’ concerns are unfounded.
According to Nick Ludlum, senior vice president of the wireless trade association CTIA, “the aviation industry’s fear mongering is based on wholly discredited information and purposeful distortions of fact.”
Taking a look ahead…
The White House and federal regulators are engaged in high-stakes negotiations with representatives from the telecom and aviation industries over an agreement that would reduce 5G signal strength near airports. In the meanwhile, airlines are preparing for possible flight limitations with caution.