A Southwest commercial plane flies over a cellphone tower as it approaches to land at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, U.S., January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday urged chief executives of major U.S. airlines to act quickly to address the risks associated with the rollout of 5G wireless, in order to avoid possible disruptions at major airports from the next. month.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a letter reviewed by Reuters that AT&T (TN) and Verizon (VZ.N) want to boost 5G C-band services around select airports starting in July after having previously delayed their deployment.

Fears that 5G service could interfere with aircraft altimeters, which provide data on a plane’s height above the ground and are crucial for landings in bad weather, led to disruptions at some US airports earlier. This year.

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Nolen urged airlines to press ahead with radio altimeter upgrades as a matter of urgency, saying “there is no guarantee that all major markets will keep current (guarantees)”.

He warned that as mobile operators boost signals, some “less capable aircraft” may not be able to access certain airports without altimeter upgrades.

On January 17, airline CEOs warned of an impending “catastrophic” airline crisis that could have brought almost all traffic to a standstill due to the rollout of 5G.

Under pressure from the White House, AT&T and Verizon a few days later in January agreed to delay until July 5 the activation of certain wireless towers and the deactivation of others near airports just hours before the planned deployment. January 19.

That date, Nolen wrote on Wednesday, “is rapidly approaching.”

In recent months, the FAA has been urging airlines to complete upgrades to certain aircraft radio altimeters that may experience interference from C-Band 5G wireless service by the end of 2022.

The FAA said it is in the early stages of working with AT&T and Verizon “to identify markets where a new tower or increased signal strength will cause the least disruption.”

Nolen said that in three rounds of recent discussions, industry officials have identified a path to equipping the first two groups of aircraft with the most vulnerable radio altimeters by the end of 2022. Another round of discussions is scheduled for Friday.

“We are working towards an equally aggressive schedule that would require the completion of renovations for the third and largest cluster in 2023,” Nolen said.

He added that “as things currently stand, Verizon and AT&T plan to continue full deployment of their networks by the end of 2023.”

Another 19 companies “are expected to enter the market during this period, hopefully using some level of the voluntary mitigations that have enabled our progress so far,” he added.

Verizon said it was working with the FAA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the aviation industry, and was confident it would achieve “a robust C-band deployment without significant disruption to the traveling public.”

Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.O) and others, said the industry recognizes the need “to put implement a permanent solution, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security.”

AT&T had no comment.

Some airlines have raised concerns about paying to upgrade altimeters only to cope with a replacement in a few years.

Nolen said that “without further action by the FCC to limit transmissions to currently achievable power levels, the prospect of further disruption remains and we are unable to offer assurances.”

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Pullin

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