Some flights to and from the U.S. were canceled on Wednesday exactly after AT&T and Verizon scaled back the rollout of high-speed wireless service that could interfere with aircraft technology that measures altitude.
Federal Aviation Administration
International carriers that rely heavily on the wide-body Boeing 777, and other Boeing aircraft, canceled earlier flights or changed to different planes following warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Chicago-based planemaker.
The 777 Airlines that fly only or mostly Airbus jets, including Air France and Ireland’s Aer Lingus, seemed less impacted by the new 5G service.
Airlines had canceled more than 320 flights by Wednesday evening, or a little over 2% of the U.S. whole, according to FlightAware. That was far less disruptive than during the Christmas and New Year’s travel season, when a peak of 3,200, or 13%, of flights, were canceled on Jan. 3 due to winter storms and employees out sick with COVID-19.
A trade group for the industry, Airlines for America, told cancellations weren’t as bad as feared because AT&T and Verizon agreed to temporarily reduce the rollout of 5G around dozens of airports while industry and the government operate out a longer-term solution.
“They have to fix this problem,” Chabad told. “It would have been a lot more useful if they had resolved it way early and we knew this in advance, instead of, like, finding out when we are here at the airport.”
Similar mobile networks have been deployed in more than three dozen countries, but there are key differences in how the U.S. networks are designed that raised concerns of potential issues for airlines.
The Verizon and AT&T networks use a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to the one used by radio altimeters, devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground to support pilots land in low visibility. The Federal Communications Commission, which set a buffer between the frequencies used by 5G and altimeters, told the wireless service posed no risk to aviation.
But FAA officials noticed a potential situation, and the telecom companies approved to delay their rollout near more than 80 airports while the agency assesses which aircraft are safe to fly around 5G and which will require new altimeters.
The FAA agreed Wednesday for more types of planes to land in low visibility near 5G signals, including the Boeing 777. By evening, however, almost 40% of the U.S. airline fleet was still waiting to be cleared. That percentage was expected to shrink as the FAA continued to check other planes and altimeters.
“I think whatever process they are using could be operated to clear the rest,” told Randall Berry, a professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University.
The FAA tells there are several reasons why the 5G rollout has been more of a challenge for airlines in the U.S. than in other countries: Cellular towers use a more powerful signal strength than those elsewhere; the 5G network works on a frequency nearer to the one many altimeters use, and cell tower antennae point up at a more elevated angle. A telecom industry group, CTIA, disputes the FAA’s claims.
“The fights about this from federal agencies have just gotten more and more intense,” told Harold Feld, an expert on telecom policy at the advocacy group Public Knowledge.
European Union Aviation Safety Agency said
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency told it stood aware of any issues on the continent caused by 5G interference. To mitigate airline interference, French telecom providers decrease the strength of their high-speed networks around airports.
Boeing Co. told in a report it would work with airlines, the FAA, and others to confirm that all planes can fly safely as 5G is rolled out. In the meantime, airlines scrambled to adjust to the latest truth.
Emirates, which relies heavily on the 777, suspended flights to several American cities on Wednesday but maintained service to Los Angeles, New York, and Washington.
“We wish to continue our U.S. services as soon as possible,” the state-owned airline told. Tim Clark, president of Emirates, informed CNN it was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” situations he’d ever seen as it involved a loss by government, science, and industry.
Japan’s All Nippon Airways canceled 20 flights to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, while Japan Airlines told eight of its flights were affected Wednesday.
- Air India informed on Twitter it would cancel flights to Chicago, Newark, New York, and San Francisco because of the 5G issue. But it also said it would try to use other aircraft on U.S. routes — a course several other airlines took.
- Korean Air, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, and Austrian Airlines informed they substituted different planes for flights that were scheduled to use 777s. Germany’s Lufthansa swapped out one kind of 747 for another on some U.S.-bound flights.
American Airlines Chief
American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour told in a notice to staff that the carrier canceled four flights while it awaited FAA approval of equipment on its Airbus aircraft.
Choi Jong-Yun, a spokeswoman for Asiana Airlines, which uses Airbus planes for flights to the U.S., told it hadn’t been impacted so far.
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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told in a report that the 5G “deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world.” However, she urged the FAA to conduct its safety checks with “both care and speed.”
Gambrell reported from Dubai. Associated Press video journalist Teresa Crawford in Chicago and AP writers Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris, Kelvin Chan in London and Isabel Debre in Dubai contributed to this report.