Major international airlines have cancelled flights heading to the U.S. or have changed the planes they’re using over concerns that new 5G mobile phone service could interfere with aircraft technology.
Some airlines said they’ve received warnings from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or Boeing that the plane maker’s 777 was particularly affected by the new 5G wireless service.
Similar mobile networks have been deployed in dozens of other countries — but there are some key differences in how the U.S. network works that could make it more likely to cause problems for airlines.
The new 5G network uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by radio altimeters, which measure the height of aircraft above the ground and help pilots land in low visibility.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which sets a buffer between the frequency that 5G uses and the one that altimeters use, determined that it could be used safely in the vicinity of air traffic.
AT&T and Verizon have said their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics. But FAA officials saw a potential problem, and the telecom companies agreed to a pause Tuesday while it is addressed.
On Wednesday, Emirates announced it would halt flights to several American cities due to “operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S. at certain airports.” It said it would continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns, and we hope to resume our U.S. services as soon as possible,” the state-owned airline said.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates, pulled no punches when discussing the issue. He told CNN it was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” situations he’d ever seen as it involved a failure by government, science and industry.
Japan’s All Nippon Airways said that the FAA “has indicated that radio waves from the 5G wireless service may interfere with aircraft altimeters.” It added that Boeing announced restrictions on airlines flying its 777s, and said it cancelled 20 flights over the issue to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Air India also announced 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 said they substituted different planes for flights that were scheduled to use 777s.
British Airways cancelled several planned U.S.-bound Boeing 777 flights and changed aircraft on others.
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