By JON GAMBRELL and DAVID KOENIG, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) – Some flights to and from the US were canceled Wednesday, even after AT&T and Verizon scaled back the rollout of high-speed wireless service that could disrupt aircraft technology that measures altitude.
International airlines heavily reliant on the widebody Boeing 777 and other Boeing aircraft have canceled early flights or switched to other aircraft following warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Chicago-based aircraft maker.
Airlines that fly only or mainly Airbus jets, including Air France and Ireland’s Aer Lingus, seemed less affected by the new 5G service.
Airlines had canceled more than 320 flights by Wednesday night, or just over 2% of the total in the US, according to FlightAware. That was much less disruptive than during the Christmas and New Years travel season, when a peak of 3,200, or 13%, of flights were canceled on January 3 due to winter storms and workers sick with COVID-19.
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An industry trade group, Airlines for America, said cancellations weren’t as bad as feared, as AT&T and Verizon agreed to temporarily cut the rollout of 5G near dozens of airports, while industry and the government resolved the issue. develop in the longer term.
At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Sudeep Bhabad said his father-in-law’s flight to India had been cancelled.
“They have to solve this problem,” Bhabad said. “It would have been a lot better if they fixed it much sooner and we knew about this ahead of time, rather than finding out when we’re here at the airport.”
Similar cellular networks have been implemented in more than three dozen countries, but there are significant differences in the way US networks are designed, raising concerns about potential problems for airlines.
Verizon and AT&T’s networks use a segment of the radio spectrum that’s close to that used by radio altimeters, devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground to help pilots land in poor visibility. The Federal Communications Commission, which has put in place a buffer between the frequencies used by 5G and altimeters, said the wireless service posed no risk to aviation.
But FAA officials saw a potential problem and the telecom companies agreed to delay their rollout near more than 80 airports as the agency assesses which planes are safe to fly near 5G and which need new altimeters. .
The FAA on Wednesday authorized more types of aircraft to land in poor visibility near 5G signals, including the Boeing 777. By evening, however, nearly 40% of the US airline fleet was still waiting to be cleared. That percentage was expected to decrease as the FAA continued to review other aircraft and altimeters.
“I assume whatever process they use can be used to clean up the rest,” said Randall Berry, a professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University.
The FAA says there are several reasons why the rollout of 5G has been more challenging for airlines in the US than in other countries: Cell towers use a more powerful signal than those elsewhere; the 5G network operates at a frequency closer to that used by many altimeters, and cell tower antennas point to a higher angle. A telecom industry group, CTIA, is challenging the FAA’s claims.
Some experts say poor coordination and cooperation between federal agencies is as much to blame as technical problems.
“Federal agency battles have only intensified,” said Harold Feld, a telecom policy expert with the advocacy group Public Knowledge.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it was not aware of any problems on the continent caused by 5G interference. To reduce airline interference, French telecom providers are reducing the strength of their high-speed networks near airports.
boeing co. said in a statement it would work with airlines, the FAA and others to ensure all planes can fly safely as 5G rolls out.
Meanwhile, airlines tried to adapt to the new reality.
Emirates, which relies heavily on the 777, stopped flights to several US cities on Wednesday but maintained service to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
“We hope to resume our US services as soon as possible,” the state airline said.
Emirates president Tim Clark told CNN it was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” situations he had ever seen, as it involved a failure of government, science and industry.
Japan’s All Nippon Airways canceled 20 flights to cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, while Japan Airlines said eight of its flights were affected on Wednesday.
Air India said on Twitter that it would cancel flights to Chicago, Newark, New York and San Francisco due to the 5G problem. But it also said it would try to use other planes on U.S. routes — a course several other airlines were taking.
Korean Air, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific and Austrian Airlines said they have replaced several aircraft with flights planned to use 777s. The German Lufthansa exchanged one type 747 for another on some flights to the US.
David Seymour, chief operating officer of American Airlines, said in a memo to staff that the airline has canceled four flights pending FAA approval of equipment on its Airbus aircraft.
Choi Jong-yun, a spokeswoman for Asiana Airlines, which uses Airbus planes for flights to the US, said it had not been affected so far.
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that the deployment of 5G “could safely coexist with aviation technologies in the United States, as it does in other countries around the world.” However, she urged the FAA to “execute its security checks both carefully and promptly”.
Gambrell reported from Dubai. Associated Press video journalist Teresa Crawford in Chicago and AP writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris, Kelvin Chan in London, Tali Arbel in New York and Isabel DeBre in Dubai contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
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