Biden praises AT&T, Verizon's move to temporarily limit 5G rollout at certain airports

The agreement comes as the airline industry has warned 5G could potentially interfere with radio altimeters on aircraft

President Biden has commended AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to temporarily limit deployment of 5G C-band service around select airport runways ahead of its rollout on Wednesday. 

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Biden said in a statement on Tuesday that the agreement will "avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled" and "bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans."

"Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine, and tomorrow will be a massive step in the right direction," he added. "My team has been engaging non-stop with the wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist — and, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports."


AT&T and Verizon's move comes as the rollout has already been hit with several delays due to the airline industry's concerns about 5G potentially interfering with radio altimeters on aircraft, which provide critical information for pilots when operating in low visibility environments.

An economic analysis from Airlines for America, a trade group representing the major carriers, has estimated that the 5G rollout could result in delays, diversions or cancellations for 345,000 passenger flights, 32 million passengers and 5,400 cargo flights, $2.1 billion in annual operating costs annually for U.S. airlines and A4A cargo operators and $1.59 billion in lost wages and productivity annually for passengers and shippers.

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On Monday, airline and shipping company executives sent a joint letter to the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission, National Economic Council and Department of Transportation on Monday warning that the majority of commercial and cargo flights could be grounded by the rollout if major airports are not cleared to fly and that tens of thousands of Americans could potentially get stranded overseas. 

"The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable," the executives wrote. "Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments, planes and crews where they need to be. To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt."

The letter asked for 5G service to be implemented everywhere except within two miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA. 


As of Monday, roughly 45% of the U.S. commercial fleet has been cleared for low-visibility landings after the FAA approved two radio altimeter models installed on Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, MD-10/-11 and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330 and A350 models. The agency added that it expects to issue more approvals in the coming days.

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Meanwhile, Boeing 787 operators have been ordered to take additional precautions when landing on wet or snowy runways at airports where 5G C-band service is deployed. Safety experts determined that 5G interference could prevent the plane's engine and braking system's transition to landing mode and potentially prevent it from stopping on the runway. 

Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. (Boeing)

While the FAA said that Verizon and AT&T's move would help reduce cancellations and delays, the agency anticipates some impacts to flights due to the limitations of some radio altimeters. 

"We recognize the economic importance of expanding 5G, and we appreciate the wireless companies working with us to protect the flying public and the country’s supply chain," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. "The complex U.S. airspace leads the world in safety because of our high standards for aviation, and we will maintain this commitment as wireless companies deploy 5G." 

As part of their agreement with the FAA, AT&T and Verizon will provide data on base stations, operating characteristics and planned deployment locations and "continue to work in good faith with aviation stakeholders to support the technical assessment of individual altimeters and airport environments." The FAA has issued a list of 50 airports that will be subject to C-band exclusion zones that will remain in effect until July 5.