Airlines around the world, including long-haul carrier Emirates, were rushing to cancel or change flights to the United States amid a dispute over the deployment of 5G cellular technologies near US airports.
The problem appeared to particularly affect the Boeing 777, a long-haul aircraft used by carriers around the world. Two Japanese companies specifically mentioned the model as particularly affected by 5G signals when they announced cancellations and schedule changes.
The cancellations came even after cellphone carriers AT&T and Verizon announced they would delay their new wireless service near select airports, which was due to go live this week. The US Civil Aviation Agency has given several planes the green light to fly to airports with 5G signals, but the Boeing 777 was not on the list.
Emirates, based in Dubai, which is a crucial operator for travel between East and West, announced that it would suspend flights to Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Jersey, Orlando, Florida, San Francisco and Seattle. He said he would maintain flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
In its statement, Emirates said the cancellation was necessitated by “operational issues related to the planned rollout of 5G mobile network services in the United States at certain airports”.
“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and relevant authorities to mitigate operational issues, and we are confident to resume services to the United States as quickly as possible,” the state airline said.
The UAE managed to install 5G coverage at all airports without incident, like dozens of other countries. But in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is concerned that 5G C-band will interfere with radio altimeters.
Altimeters, which measure the height of an aircraft, are essential equipment for flying, especially at night or in bad weather.
The FAA will allow aircraft with reliable and accurate altimeters to operate around powerful 5G towers. But planes equipped with old altimeters will not be able to land in conditions of poor visibility.
Part of the problem, according to the FAA, is the signal strength of 5G towers.
“Base stations in rural areas of the United States are permitted to transmit at higher levels than in other countries, which may affect the accuracy and reliability of radio altimeter equipment,” the FAA said in December. .
The Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in a statement that the deployment of 5G “can safely coexist with aviation technologies in the United States, as it does in other countries of the world”. However, Jessica Rosenworcel added that “it is critical that the FAA complete this process carefully and expeditiously.”
AT&T and Verizon spent tens of billions of dollars on C-band spectrum at a government auction organized by the FCC last year.
A particular cause for concern appears to be the Boeing 777, widely used by Emirates, which only uses this model and the widebody Airbus A380. Middle East rival Qatar Airways was planning “minor delays” on return flights from the United States, but said its routes to the United States were operating as normal.
The Japanese company All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. said in a statement that the FAA “has indicated that radio waves from the 5G wireless service may interfere with aircraft altimeters.”
“Boeing has announced flight restrictions on all airlines operating the Boeing 777, and we have canceled or changed aircraft for some flights to/from the United States based on Boeing’s announcement,” said ANA. The firm said it canceled 20 flights to the United States, to cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Japan Airlines Co. Ltd released a similar statement. Eight of its flights on Wednesday were affected, three passengers and five cargo.
Chicago-based Boeing Co did not initially respond to a request for comment.
Air India also announced on Twitter that it would cancel flights to Chicago, Newark, New York and San Francisco “due to the deployment of 5G communications (equipment)”. He signaled that he would try to use other aircraft on US routes.
Korean Air, South Korea’s largest carrier, changed four passenger flights and two cargo flights overnight and would continue to avoid 777s and 747-8s at affected US airports, according to spokeswoman Jill Chung.
Mushroom-based Cathay Pacific said it will be using different aircraft and its flights have not been affected at this time. Taiwan’s EVA Air said it had taken “emergency measures”, without giving further details.
German airline Lufthansa said it replaced planes on three flights from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, and canceled one route from Frankfurt to Miami.
Choi Jong-yun, spokesman for South Korean carrier Asiana Airlines, said the company had not been affected so far because it used Airbus planes for its passenger flights to the United States and did not use not the affected Boeing models for cargo.
However, Choi noted that the FAA has also asked the FAA to prevent automatic landings at affected US airports in bad weather, regardless of aircraft model. Asiana will redirect its planes to nearby airports in such cases, he said.