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Airlines worldwide rush to change flights over US 5G problem

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Airlines across the world, including the long-haul carrier Emirates, rushed yesterday to cancel or change flights heading into the United States (US) over an ongoing dispute about the rollout of 5G mobile phone technology near American airports.

The issue appeared to particularly impact the Boeing 777, a long-range, wide-body aircraft used by carriers worldwide – especially Emirates. Two Japanese airlines directly named the aircraft as being particularly affected by the 5G signals as they announced cancellations and changes to their schedules.

The cancellations come even after mobile phone carriers AT&T and Verizon said they will postpone new wireless service near some US airports planned for this week. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cleared a number of aircraft to fly into airports with the 5G signals, but missing from the list is the Boeing 777.

Dubai-based Emirates, a key carrier for East-West travel, announced it would halt flights to Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Jersey, Orlando, Florida, San Francisco and Seattle over the issue beginning yesterday. It said it would continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

In its announcement, Emirates cited the cancellation as necessary due to “operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the US at certain airports”.

“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns, and we hope to resume our US services as soon as possible,” the state-owned airline said.

An Emirates jetliner landing at the Dubai International Airport. PHOTO: AP

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully rolled out 5G coverage all around its airports without incident, like dozens of other countries. But in the US, the FAA worries that the C-Band strand of 5G could interfere with radio altimeters.

Altimetres measure how high a plane is in the sky, a crucial piece of equipment for flying, particularly at night or in bad weather.

The FAA will allow planes with accurate, reliable altimetres to operate around high-power 5G.

But planes with older altimetres will not be allowed to make landings under low-visibility conditions.

Part of the problem, according to the FAA, are the signal strength of the 5G towers.

“Base stations in rural areas of the US are permitted to emit at higher levels in comparison to other countries which may affect radio altimeter equipment accuracy and reliability,” the FAA said in December.

The US Federal Communication Commission’s chairwoman said in a statement that the 5G “deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the US, just as it does in other countries around the world”. However, Jessica Rosenworcel added: “It is essential that the FAA now complete this process with both care and speed.”


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