American Airlines confident that 5G issue is resolved

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Telecom companies launched 5G transmissions on Wednesday with what appeared to be little to no impact on air operations.
Telecom companies launched 5G transmissions on Wednesday with what appeared to be little to no impact on air operations. Photo Credit: American Airlines

Outgoing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says he is confident that the 5G dispute between the aviation industry and telecom corporations AT&T and Verizon has been resolved. 

"It has taken a long time to get to the right spot, but we're definitely in the right spot," he said during American's Q4 earnings call on Thursday. "I don't think you're going to see any material disruption going forward."

The dispute, involving the telecom companies and the Federal Communications Commission on one side and the FAA and airlines on the other, reached a head on Tuesday, with airlines warning that 5G deployment could disrupt thousands of flights on a given day. 

The airlines and the FAA have expressed concern that 5G technology would interfere with low-visibility landings.

I don't think you're going to see any material disruption going forward.– Outgoing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

But tensions dropped after the White House brokered an arrangement in which AT&T and Verizon would begin a 5G rollout, but not from towers near some U.S. airports.  

The telecom companies launched the transmissions Wednesday with what appeared to be little to no impact on air operations. According to Flight Aware, 365 U.S. flights were cancelled for the day, which was the second-lowest total so far this month. 

Not all is calm, however. While trade group Airlines for America released a statement praising the arrangement midway through the day Wednesday, Regional Airline Association CEO Faye Malarkey Black tweeted that no regional aircraft have been cleared for low-visibility landings.

"Today's fair weather is saving rural America from severe air service disruption," she said. 

Parker, though, offered a rosy outlook on the issue, saying that the gamechanger is that aircraft suppliers and manufacturers are now talking and sharing information with AT&T and Verizon and vice versa. Before, he said, it was mainly government agencies speaking with each other, which was less productive. 

Parker said the lack of communication until recent days was dysfunctional. But he also said technical experts are telling American that resolving the matter is not complicated.

"Everyone agrees it doesn't make sense to deploy any more 5G until we're certain it doesn't have a negative effect on airlines," he said. 

AT&T and Verizon launched their new 5G service on the C-band spectrum, which is closer to the spectrum used by planes in U.S. airspace than has previously been allowed.

Concerns over the launch have revolved around the possibility that transmissions could interfere with aircraft altimeters, which are used to measure a plane's distance from the ground when flying at altitudes of approximately 2,500 feet and below. Altimeters are especially important for low-visibility landings.

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