Some major international airlines are now working to modify or cancel flights to several major U.S. cities because of the new 5G cell phone service rollout across the country. They worry the new system could lead to potential interference between cell phone service and important plane technologies.
Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and British Airways announced changes to some flights because of the issue.
Emirates said it is suspending flights to nine US airports: Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Miami, Newark, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle.
“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns, and we hope to resume our US services as soon as possible,” Emirates announced in a statement.
Air India is suspending service between Delhi and San Francisco, Chicago and JFK. It’s also suspending a Mumbai to Newark Flight.
Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines said they are canceling some flights to the U.S. scheduled to use a Boeing 777 but will still be operating some flights using Boeing 787s instead.
Lufthansa is also changing aircraft used on flights. They are swapping their Boeing 747-8s for 747-400s on flights from Frankfurt to L.A., Chicago and San Francisco.
All of this comes, of course, after several major U.S. airlines pleaded with officials to pause or alter the rollout of 5G.
Why exactly are officials so concerned about the 5G rollout? What does it do to these planes?
Well, according to the BBC, 5G relies on a greater use of radio signals. In the U.S., the radio frequencies used for 5G are part of a spectrum of waves known as C-Band.
These frequencies are very close to the ones used by radio altimeters on airplanes, which is the device that measures the heights of the plane above the ground and provides data for safety and navigation systems.
There is worry that interference from 5G transmissions could stop these instruments from working correctly and cause safety problems – especially when a plane is landing.
f you’re wondering why the U.S. is having these issues while other countries aren’t struggling, there’s an answer, and it has a lot to do with how 5G is being rolled out depending on the country.
For example, in the E.U., cell phone networks operate at lower frequencies than in the U.S. That reduces the risk of interference with airplane tech. 5G masts in Europe also operate at lower power.
Even so, some countries have taken it a step further. In France, officials created a “buffer zone” around airports where 5G signals are restricted. Antennas also have to be tilted downwards to prevent interference.
The FAA here in the U.S. has temporarily done something similar around 50 airports, but these zones are much smaller than the ones in France. On top of that, the U.S. transmitters are operating at a much higher power level.
The FAA has also begun to identify which altimeters can be used safely in areas where 5G has been deployed — and those which aren’t up to snuff will need to be replaced.
Along with that, the FAA has identified airports where GPS systems can be used to guide approaching planes rather than radio altimeters.
Despite all this, airlines insist it isn’t enough and that 5G networks shouldn’t be active within two miles of impacted airports.
So, for now it may be best to be flexible with your plans to fly, because it could be a while before all of these issues are resolved. But hey, at least your internet will run faster.