5G Causes Airline Disruptions. May Lead to Mass Fight Cancellations in the US

There is no clear indication that the 5G related-changes AT&T and Verizon announced on Tuesday will prevent mass flight cancellations.

Responses to requests for comment were not immediately forthcoming from several airlines and their trade group.

Flights scheduled to land in the United States on Wednesday have been canceled by a few foreign airlines.

Almost two weeks ago, the FAA published a list of 50 airports based on their proximity to 5G service using C-band frequencies, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles International Airports, Bostonglobe reported.

Yet Boston Logan and Providence’s T.F. Green Airport were not included in this list.

Boston did not make the list, which means that aircraft that do not have approved radar altimeters could bypass the airport if the new service impacts their radar altimeters.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced early this month that it had reached an agreement with AT&T and Verizon that delayed the roll-out of 5G service by two weeks and added airport safety measures.

A letter from airline executives to the administration on Monday, however, negated the agreement by warning that the launch of the service could cause so many problems that “nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”

“This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans,” Biden said in the statement. Federal officials will also continue to work with wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation manufacturers to find a “permanent, workable solution,” he said.

Approximately 90% of the 5G rollout will proceed according to schedule, Biden said.

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In a statement on Tuesday, AT&T said it had “voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways” as it continued working with aviation regulators. Likewise, Verizon plans to launch its service on Wednesday but will add some additional measures to address airport security concerns.

AT&T and Verizon announced their plans after ten airlines reached out to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday to say what would happen if aviation regulators did not put restrictions in place to ensure that wireless service would not interfere with plane equipment during takeoffs and landings.

“Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments, planes, and crews where they need to be,” officials said.

“To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”

FAA restrictions would have caused more than 1,100 flights to be canceled on a day like Sunday, affecting 100,000 passengers, the group said.

Using so-called C-band frequencies, new 5G usage will utilize a portion of airwaves that are closely associated with radio altimeters, devices that measure flight distance. Pilots, in particular, rely on such measurements when visibility is poor.

There is no immediate estimate of how many flights could have been canceled on Wednesday if the 5G rollout took place as planned, according to several major companies and Airlines for America.

Separately, United Airlines said flight disruptions would impact at least 15,000 flights and affect 1.25 million customers.

In a letter, the airline group proposed a solution: Mitigating the problems by allowing 5G to be installed nationwide starting Wednesday, except within 2 miles of airport runways affected.

As a result of the start of the 5G service in the United States on Wednesday, several international airlines have cancelled or suspended flights to the United States.

There will be no flights from New Delhi to New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, and another will be canceled from Mumbai to Newark.

The Dubai-based airline, Emirates, announced it would suspend service to several US airports.

Japanese carriers Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have also announced they are canceling or changing some US-bound flights.

Over the past several years, aviation regulators and the industry have expressed concerns about 5G interference.

As an example, the International Air Transport Association, an international trade group, warned in November 2020 that such interference could cause planes to avoid phantom objects or prevent them from updating pilots to real-life obstacles.

Airline and FAA warnings intensified over recent months, causing Verizon and AT&T to delay their limited 5G rollouts to this Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the FAA, a department within Buttigieg’s, reached an agreement that gave it more time to prepare safety measures.

After Verizon and AT&T agreed to the most recent postponement, the FAA said it would no longer request further delays.

Airlines for America said at the time that it would “continue to work with all stakeholders to help ensure that new 5G service can coexist with aviation safely.”

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The telecommunication industry has pushed back against the airline and FAA’s concerns about 5G, noting that there have been years of planning for this service and that it has already been implemented in Britain, France, and other countries without incident.

“In our opinion, the technical information that is being used to generate concern shows improbable worst-case scenarios,” the GSMA, a global wireless association, said on Monday.

Although other countries are using 5G in different ways, the FAA started while noting the technical differences.

As an example, in the United States, airplanes would be protected from 5G interference for just 20 seconds of their flight, whereas in France it would be protected for 96 seconds.

In spite of the temporary power limits, the US wireless companies still have restrictions about 2.5 times higher than in France, according to the information posted online by the FCC.

The Canadian government announced in the fall that the 5G network would be restricted near most of the country’s major airports.

The FAA issued hundreds of notices last week regarding landing planes safely in low visibility conditions when using the 5G service.

A government agency reported on Sunday that up to 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by potential 5G interference have now been cleared for such landings.

Approximately 45 percent of the fleet of US commercial aircraft is now eligible to perform such landings safely.

Neither the FAA nor any other group identified which airports have still not been cleared.

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