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Expert says 5G rollout unlikely to impact operations at DIA

The CEOs of 10 airlines said 5G towers could cause 1,000 flight disruptions a day, causing some airlines to already pre-empt travel at some airports.

DENVER — A major upgrade of the 5G network was expected to take place nationwide Wednesday. Airlines have been asking for those plans to be put on hold.

AT&T and Verizon now say they will delay their rollout of some of those towers around airports.

The CEOs of 10 airlines said those towers could cause 1,000 flight disruptions a day, causing some airlines to already pre-empt travel at the airports that may be affected. The phone companies disputed those warnings.

RELATED: Wireless companies agree to pause some new 5G after airlines raise alarm

"Airplanes use what's called a radio altimeter. It gives the pilots very precise height information above the ground,” 9NEWS Aviation Expert Gregory Feith said.

Feith said the altimeter operates in a frequency band. The concern is if that frequency band will interfere with the technology in the cockpit.

"The safety concern is bad weather or low visibility operations, and that affects not only passenger-carrying airplanes but cargo aircraft around the world,” Feith said.

If there's a 5G tower within two miles of an airport in an urban area, pilots will be forced to deviate.

"They're going to have to either go somewhere else or sit in a holding pattern until the weather improves. All of those are going to be a ripple effect with delays,” Feith said.

Denver International Airport will not be impacted when this expansion happens.

"Denver International is fortunate because they really sit out in the middle of nowhere, if you will. They don't have a lot of that urban growth built right up against the boundaries of the airports,” Feith said.

That could change in the coming years. But as many anticipate this rollout, Feith reminds passengers to be patient and remember safety is at the forefront of this industry.

"You have to look at aviation safety as the predominant factor. It's people’s lives. And you have very competent, very highly skilled pilots flying these automated aircraft. You don't want to put them or the people they’re flying in a position of jeopardy,” Feith said.

The FAA has exempted helicopters from using radio altimeters when landing. Now, these pilots have to use heightened awareness. It's causing some to change weather restrictions since pilots will no longer have that accuracy with the expansion impacting it.

The White House said the Biden administration is working on a solution between the telecom companies and the airlines. That solution could allow up to 90% of the new 5G towers to be turned on.

RELATED: FAA clears 45% of commercial planes for low-visibility landings after 5G deployment

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