According to Radio-Canada and Associated Press, airlines across the world, including the long-haul carrier Emirates, rushed Wednesday to cancel or change flights heading into the U.S. over an ongoing dispute about the rollout of 5G mobile phone technology near American airports.
The issue appeared to impact the Boeing 777, a long-range, wide-body aircraft used by carriers across the world. Two Japanese airlines directly named the aircraft as being particularly affected by the 5G signals as they announced cancellations and changes to their schedules.
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 Wednesday. It said it would continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
In its announcement, Emirates cited the cancellations as necessary due to "operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S. at certain airports".
Potential interference with aircraft altimeters
The United Arab Emirates successfully rolled out 5G coverage all around its airports without incident. But in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration worries that the C-Band strand of 5G could interfere with aviation equipment.
Of particular concern in the 5G rollout appears to be the Boeing 777, a major workhorse for Emirates.
Japan's All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. said in a statement that the FAA "has indicated that radio waves from the 5G wireless service may interfere with aircraft altimeters". Altimeters measure how high a plane is in the sky, a crucial piece of equipment for flying.
"Boeing has announced flight restrictions on all airlines operating the Boeing 777 aircraft, and we have cancelled or changed the aircraft for some flights to/from the U.S. based on the announcement by Boeing", ANA said.
Japan Airlines Co. Ltd. similarly said that it had been informed that 5G signals "may interfere with the radio altimeter installed on the Boeing 777".
"We will refrain from using this model on the continental United States line until we can confirm its safety and we regret to inform you that we will cancel the flight for which the aircraft cannot be changed to the Boeing 787", the airline said.
Chicago-based Boeing Co. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Air India also announced on Twitter it would cancel flights to Chicago, Newark, New York and San Francisco "due to deployment of the 5G communications" equipment. It said it would try to use other aircraft on U.S. routes as well.
The cancellations come even after mobile phone carriers AT&T and Verizon will postpone new wireless service near some U.S. airports planned for this week.
The FAA will allow planes with accurate, reliable altimeters to operate around high-power 5G. But planes with older altimeters will not be allowed to make landings under low-visibility conditions.