Thursday,  May 19, 2022  10:11 pm

Red flags: U.S. 5G dispute leads to flight cancellations, changes

  • Air
  •   01-19-2022  9:44 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Red flags: U.S. 5G dispute leads to flight cancellations, changes
Emirates cancelled U.S. flights this week due to concerns about 5G deployments planned for Jan. 19. (Sangga Rima Roman Selia/Unsplash)
Pax Global Media

Worries that the United States’ rollout of 5G mobile phone technology near American airports will cause operational problems with certain aircraft prompted airlines around the world to cancel flights heading to the U.S. yesterday (Jan. 18).

Dubai-based Emirates, for one, made the most adjustments, announcing it would halt flights to Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Jersey, Orlando, Florida, San Francisco and Seattle beginning Wednesday. (It will, however, continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington).

It’s believed the new high-speed wireless service will interfere with sensitive aircraft technology and cause flight disruptions, reports say.

Japan Airlines also announced this week that it was cancelling flights into the US that cannot be changed to a Boeing 787 plane. All Nippon Airways Co., also known as ANA, did the same. 

Major U.S. airlines have also warned that the long-range Boeing 777, used by many carriers, is particularly vulnerable.

Earlier this week, on Monday (Jan. 17), the chief executives of U.S. passenger and cargo carriers wrote of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis if U.S. telecommunication companies went ahead with launching new 5G services.

“We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within 2 miles of the airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA on Jan. 19, 2022,” reads a Jan. 17 letter signed by chief executives of American Airlines, JetBlue Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, and officials from FedEx Express and UPS Airlines.

“To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt,” the letter states, outlining various outcome of what could happen if a 5G interference were to occur.

High-speed 5G service uses a radio segment that is close to that used by radio altimeters, which measure the height of aircraft above ground. Altimeters are used to help pilots land airplanes when visibility is poor are also used in automated landings.

The fear is that a false reading could mislead pilots as they approach runways in bad weather and lead to crashes or collisions with natural structures.   

In response, AT&T and Verizon, on Tuesday, decided to delay turning on their 5G cell towers within a two-mile radius of runways for two weeks. But both companies say their services will not interfere with aircraft, noting how their technology is being used in other countries.

The United Arab Emirates, for instance, has managed to implement 5G coverage around its airports without incident. 

But the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration worries that the “C-Band strand of 5G” could still interfere with aviation technology, the Associated Press reports.

Canada's 5G situation 

In Canada, the federal government, in November last year, restricted 5G services around 26 airports over concerns it would interfere with radio altimeters.

Rogers, Bell and Telus own the majority of 5G service in Canada.

The effect of 5G technology is still being reviewed, however, as a Canadian government official recently told Global News that work is currently underway to understand the potential impacts of 5G on “crucial” aviation technology: specifically, the radio altimeters.

It’s also worth noting that, as CTV News points out, the 5G speed that the U.S. is looking to launch is much faster than Canada’s 5G network. Many countries, in fact, offer 5G service. However, at a slower speed that doesn’t reach the range of threatening airplane technology.

Transport Canada has issued several recommendations for pilots who use radio altimeters, including to avoid the use of automated landing or takeoff procedures in areas not covered in exclusion zones and to avoid the use of night vision goggles without external lighting to avoid relying on radio altimeters.

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