AT&T Delays 5G Rollout Amid U.S. Airlines' 'Catastrophic' Warning

By Jason Hall

January 18, 2022

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AT&T announced its decision to delay plans to activate 5G on some towers near U.S. airports one day ahead of schedule on Tuesday (January 18).

The wireless company planned to rollout near major airports on Wednesday (January 19), but several CEOs of major U.S. airlines warned about a potential "catastrophic" disruption.

AT&T confirmed it is continuing to work with the aviation industry and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in relation to the 5G rollout, spokesperson Megan Ketterer in a statement obtained by CNN on behalf of the telecommunications company.

"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," Ketterer said.

CNN, whose parent company Time Warner is owned by AT&T, confirmed the telecommunications company still plans to launch advanced 5G services in all other previously planned locations.

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Several CEOs of major U.S. airlines warned about a potential "catastrophic" disruption caused by the rollout of a new 5G service this week.

NBC News obtained a letter sent to United States transportation and economic officials on Monday (January 17) in which the CEOs predicted the 5G launch could lead to more flights being grounded and may lead to "tens of thousands of Americans" being left stranded overseas.

The letter was sent ahead of the new C-Band 5G service from AT&T and Verizon scheduled to launch on Wednesday (January 19), while the U.S. aviation industry has already dealt with massive cancelations in recent weeks due to the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 and winter storms.

The letter -- which was signed by chief executives of American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue, as well as leaders of UPS and FedEx -- warned that the 5G signals could interfere with safety equipment that pilots rely on during takeoff and landing amid inclement weather.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the letter stated via NBC News. “Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies."

The executives bluntly added that, without clearance, "the nation's commerce will grind to a halt."

The letter obtained by NBC News was personally addressed to National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Stephen Dickson and Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Fifth-generation wireless technology, better known as 5G, aims to deliver high-speed internet, extra bandwidth and increased connectivity, leading to telecommunications giants -- such as AT&T and Verizon -- quickly rolling out service.

Both companies had previously claimed the 5G networks operate safely without interference in 40 other counties and would have similar results in the U.S., but declined NBC News' request for additional comment in relation to the executives' letter this week.

On Monday, CNN reported 1,200 U.S. flights were canceled as winter storms hit the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

ABC News reported more than 8,000 flights were canceled nationwide between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.

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