The airline industry is upping the stakes in a showdown with AT&T and Verizon over plans to launch a new 5G wireless service this week, warning thousands of flights could be grounded or delayed if the rollout takes place close to major airports.

The CEOs of the nation’s largest airlines say wireless service interference on a key instrument on planes is worse than they originally thought.

“To be frank, the country’s commerce will stop” unless service is blocked near major airports, CEOs said Monday in a letter to federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who previously sided with the airlines in this matter. .

AT&T and Verizon plan to activate their new 5G wireless service on Wednesday after two previous delays to the original plan for an early December rollout.

The new high-speed 5G service uses a segment of the radio spectrum close to that used by altimeters, which are devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground.

Two weeks ago, the companies reached an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to delay service for another two weeks and reduce the power of 5G transmitters near airports. This deadline ends on Wednesday.

AT&T and Verizon say their equipment won’t interfere with aircraft electronics and the technology is used safely in many other countries. Airline industry critics say carriers have had years to upgrade altimeters that may be subject to 5G interference.

The CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines, including American, Delta, United and Southwest, said 5G would be more disruptive than they originally thought, as dozens of major airports that were slated to have buffer zones to prevent 5G interference with aircraft will still be subject to flight restrictions. announced last week by the FAA, and because these restrictions will not be limited to times when visibility is poor.

“Unless our main hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and maritime public will be essentially grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, over 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subject to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the CEOs said.

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