5G Dilemma: Why Major Airlines Are Cancelling Flights To The US After Biden Okayed Rollout Of New Cellular Services

Major international airlines have either canceled or rescheduled their flights to the US owing to concerns that the rollout of 5G cellular services from January 19 could interfere with the aircraft’s safety systems.    

Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines, and All Nippon Airways have all confirmed flight cancellations as a result of the C-band 5G rollout by telecom majors AT&T and Verizon Communications citing fears that it may interfere with sensitive instruments.

Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon have now decided not to activate their 5G antennas near airports, but it’s still unclear how long this suspension will last.

The decision was apparently taken after major airline CEOs wrote the Biden administration on January 17, appealing it to intervene in the planned introduction of 5G technology. They warned of “catastrophic” consequences if it went through.

FedEx Express – Wikiwand

”At our sole discretion, we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways… We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned,” a statement from an AT&T spokesperson reads. 

However, AT&T and Verizon claim that their equipment will not interfere with airplane avionics and that the technology is already in use in many other nations without mishap. Both firms confirmed that they were limiting deployment near particular airports on their own initiative.

Is Airlines’ Concern Genuine?

5G is the latest cellular network generation, after 4G, which debuted in late 2009 and is currently used on the majority of US cell phones.

Since 1980, a new-generation network has appeared almost every 10 years, delivering higher speeds and broader capabilities. The 5G or the fifth generation is projected to provide even faster speed, allowing users to download a movie on their phone in seconds

The new 5G wireless services that AT&T and Verizon intend to bring out employ a portion of the radio spectrum that is similar to the band used by aviation altimeters, which measure the airplane’s altitude above the ground.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said that the C-Band 5G services that are now being rolled out may interfere with sensitive airplane equipment such as altimeters and impede low-visibility operations.

The airlines have also warned that the new wireless services might render a substantial number of widebody planes inoperable, potentially stranding “tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and causing flight havoc in the United States.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others in a letter, as reported by Reuters.

The FAA will conduct a survey first to determine whether planes can successfully take off and land in these conditions, and will only allow planes with precise, trustworthy altimeters to fly near high-power 5G. Planes equipped with older altimeters will not be permitted to land in low-visibility situations. 

“5G interference with the aircraft’s radio altimeter might prohibit engine and braking systems from switching to landing mode, preventing an aircraft from stopping on the runway,” the FAA noted on January 14.

What 5G Firms Say

Both telecom firms, AT&T and Verizon, proposed limiting the strength of their 5G around airports and helipads for the first six months. But the wireless industry trade group, CTIA,  highlighted that over 40 nations have now implemented C-Band 5G with no “reports of harmful interference with aviation equipment.”

“The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France. If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States,” AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg wrote in a letter to US’ Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson.

United Airlines – Via Twitter

For the time being, however, the launch of 5G wireless services has been delayed by two weeks to allow the FAA and service providers to finalize the agreement. The airlines will have until January 21 to provide these companies with a list of around 50 airports where the power of 5G C-Band services will be lowered until July 5. 

The telecommunications industry, however, argues that the aviation industry has known about C-Band technology for several years but has done little to prepare; airlines have refused to replace altimeters that may be affected by interference, and the FAA has only recently begun examining planes’ equipment.

How Europe Is Managing 5G

In other nations, the implementation has not sparked as much alarm as it does in the United States. This is because the manner in which 5G is implemented differs from country to country.

Networks in the European Union (EU), for example, operate at lower frequencies than those planned by US carriers, decreasing the possibility of interference. Low-power 5G masts are also possible. Nonetheless, several governments have taken further measures to mitigate potential hazards.

There are so-called “buffer zones” near airports in France, where 5G transmissions are limited and antennas must be bent downward to avoid any interference.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and telecom carriers all agreed that 5G and airline travel can coexist, The Guardian reported. In approximately 40 nations, they already do so. 

There have been no mishaps in other nations where 5G is in use, the telecom providers claim, and American planes frequently travel to those countries. “5G and aviation have safely coexisted in other nations,” according to the FAA. “Power levels have been decreased around airports and the businesses have worked together ahead to deployment” in specific areas, the agency stated in a statement on January 3.