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U.S. airlines warn that 5G rollout could disrupt flights

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Yahoo Finance's Adam Shapiro joins the Live show to discuss U.S. airlines warning about the dangers of 5G.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: The White House is now stepping in to resolve a dispute over the latest rollout of 5G service. This comes as the CEOs of major airlines warn of catastrophic disruptions that could come with that big launch. Let's bring in Yahoo Finance's Adam Shapiro, who's been following this story for us.

Adam, I feel like there's an update every day. The needle has kind of moved in terms of the timeline. How likely is this launch now?

ADAM SHAPIRO: Well, the launch is supposed to take place at 12:01 Wednesday morning-- so after midnight when everyone's asleep, Wednesday morning 12:01. And what we're talking about isn't so much 5G, it's the band in which 5G transmissions take place, c-band. And the concern is that although the 5G transmissions will be at a lower spectrum than the devices on aircraft send their signals, there's concern that you could have overlap from the 5G spectrum into the waves that the altimeters use and that could make it more dangerous for pilots to land using their instruments when there's bad weather or other interference.

I want to read a quote that Airlines for America, that's the lobbying organization that represents all of the airlines, and this is signed by the CEOs from just about all of the airlines-- in which they said, quote, "immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain, and delivery of needed medical supplies. The harm that will result from deployment on January 19 is substantially worse than we originally anticipated."

So this was sent to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. It was sent to Brian Deese over at the National Economic Council. It was also sent to the FAA as well as to the chairwoman at the Federal Communications Commission. The bottom line on this is what the airlines are saying is, look, AT&T and Verizon, go ahead. Turn on 5G, which is transmitted on the c-band frequencies.

But in a two-mile radius around 50 of the nation's largest airports, think of Chicago O'Hare, think of JFK here in New York, think of Hartsfield in Atlanta-- a two-mile radius, do not turn it on at those affected airports is defined by the FAA while they work out what we're going to do in order not to disrupt transportation. Now, there are some catastrophic-- he used that term, and it's at the bottom of the letter-- where they talk about we can do this but we need to determine how that can be safely accomplished without, quote, "catastrophic disruption."

They're talking about 1,000 flights a day being knocked out with 100,000 passengers being disrupted. But also, there's more than just the passengers. There's the cargo shipments. And they talk about that. A lot of concern that this would be a major disruption, not only to people who travel, but to the economy as a whole.

- Adam, on that front, in terms of the disruptions, what would the disruptions, if this did not move forward, look like for some of the telecom companies that have based much of their growth strategy around this rollout?

ADAM SHAPIRO: That's a great question, because, listen, the telecom companies, you hear Hans Vestberg talking about 5G-- or as he likes to say, 5-Gee. AT&T talking about 5G, the whole world is going 5G. They've already done this in China and in Europe. So the question becomes, well, what protocols did they follow there regarding aircraft? Why aren't we doing it here?

And you don't get a straight answer. Remember, the c-band auction took place during the Trump administration. So the airlines and the telcoms have had roughly five years to prepare for this. And then right after the new year, we were doing these stories about-- because it was supposed to happen on January 5, well, why isn't everybody ready? Well, they're not ready.

There's all kinds of finger-pointing back and forth. The airlines are saying, look, this is a safety issue. Safety always trumps, no pun intended, trumps anything else. So we're going to have to wait to see what the FCC and the FAA, how they respond to all of this. But they are working with the White House to reach some kind of negotiation. And again, as alluded to in the letter, what the airlines are proposing is turn on 5G, but in a two-mile radius around the nation's largest airports, 50 of which the FAA has identified, don't power it up fully around those airports.

AKIKO FUJITA: A lot of travelers watching this one nervously. Adam, thanks so much for bringing us that--