Cell phone companies Verizon and AT&T planned to rollout 5G this week. However, the situation is causing problems and creating controversy with some leaders and airlines. The President of Emirates told CNN that the airline was unaware of potential issues with the 5G rollout until yesterday. He referred to the situation as “delinquent” and “utterly irresponsible.”
Several international airlines are changing or canceling flights into the United States. The modifications are due to uncertainty about interference that 5G cell services may cause with airplane technologies. Emirates has already canceled flights into 9 destinations in the U.S. today, at the time of writing.
Emirates President Tim Clark says that the airline was unaware of potential issues until yesterday morning “to the extent that it was going to compromise the safety of operation of our aircraft and just about every other 777 operator to and from the United States and within the United States.”
Transportation regulators had already expressed concern over the planned rollout. This concern stems from the potential of 5G technology to interfere with aviation instruments. Specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has worried that 5G cellular antennas near airports (the towers themselves, not passengers’ mobile devices) could throw off readings from important aircraft equipment. Specifically, the systems that pilots use to tell how far they are from the ground. These systems, radar altimeters, rely on radio signals. They are critical equipment and used through the duration of some flights.
FAA Expresses Concern Over 5G Technology
The FAA issued a rule in December banning pilots from using altimeters potentially affected by 5G interference in certain situations. The rule forbids pilots from using these radar altimeters around airports where low-visibility conditions would typically require them. Under certain circumstances, this rule could prevent planes from getting to certain airports. The reason for this is pilots would be unable to land relying on just their instruments as they could previously.
Tim Clark tells CNN his airline refuses to take any risks. “We were aware of a 5G issue. Okay. We are aware that everybody is trying to get 5G… out… After all, it’s the super-cool future of whatever it may be communication and information flow. We were not aware that the power of the antennas in the United States has been doubled compared to what’s going on elsewhere….. [Or] that the antenna themselves have been put into a vertical position rather than a slight slanting position, which then taken together compromise not only the radio altimeter systems but the flight control systems on the fly by wire aircraft. So on that basis we took that decision late last night to suspend all our services until we had clarity.”
Some 5G Rollout Delayed
He added that the airline will return to normal service under specific guidelines. First, the 5G release must be suspended. Additionally, there must no longer be any question surrounding potential interference with aircraft systems.
Both AT&T and Verizon announced that they would delay activating 5G technology on some towers around certain airports. The original plan outlined activation for Wednesday.
A spokesperson for AT&T, Megan Ketterer, shared frustrations. “We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services… We urge it do so in a timely manner,” she said.