Foreign airlines cancel some US flights despite 5G deal

A Japan Airlines (JAL) (R) passenger plane taxis past another of All Nippon Airways (ANA) at Narita International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, Tokyo on July 18, 2021.

David Gannon | AFP | Getty Images

Several foreign carriers are canceling flights to the US over concerns about 5G interference to mobile services, despite a last-minute pledge from telecom giants Verizon and AT&T to delay the rollout of the new networks near some airports.

Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Emirates Airline said on Tuesday that some flights to the US are being suspended.

Boeing has informed Japan Airlines that 5G signals for US mobile phones “may interfere with the radio wave altimeter installed on the Boeing 777,” the airline said.

That notification was sent before the telecom companies agreed to the new restrictions. On Wednesday, Japan Airlines said it had resumed flights with the widebody aircraft after clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

British Airways had canceled seven flights to the US on Wednesday that had been scheduled with a 777 because the deal doesn’t cover all the airports it operates at.

The FAA did not immediately comment.

Dubai-based Emirates said on Tuesday that the affected destinations are Boston; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Miami; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco; Newark, New Jersey; and Seattle. Service to Los Angeles, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Washington, DC was scheduled to run. The disruptions would last through Thursday, the organization said.

“Emirates regrets the inconvenience caused,” the airline said in a statement. “We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to address operational concerns, and we hope to resume our US services as soon as possible.”

The FAA had warned that 5G service would interfere with certain sensitive equipment on board certain aircraft, such as radio altimeters, which measure the plane’s distance from the ground. That instrument is especially crucial for low-visibility landings, which often occur during winter blizzards and other types of weather.

Airlines had warned that the security concerns would force them to cancel flights and repeatedly urged the White House to intervene.

Some US carriers planned to cancel flights on Tuesday ahead of the deal with AT&T and Verizon, but were still reviewing the latest rules.

Delta Air Lines, for its part, said it is planning for the “possibility of weather-related cancellations caused by the introduction of new 5G service near dozens of US airports, starting as early as Wednesday.”

“The FAA, which regulates airlines, has issued numerous notices limiting flight activity near airports, where this new deployment of 5G service in the C-band spectrum could cause limited interference with aircraft altitude instruments under various weather conditions in which aircraft operate safely today,” the carrier said in a statement. “As such, Delta is taking the necessary steps to ensure safety remains a priority in line with FAA guidelines.”

The airline, which removed the change fee for standard coach tickets in 2020, said it would waive fare differences if customers have to rebook.

United Airlines said on Wednesday it expects “minor disruptions at some airports due to remaining 5G restrictions” and applauded the deal with AT&T and Verizon.

“We look forward to a higher level of coordination between regulators, telecom operators and the airline industry to ensure that customers do not face disruptions in the future,” the airline said in a statement.

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