Written by Brenda Nakalema

Airlines in race to cancel flights amidst concerns about 5G rollout

Airlines worldwide found themselves in a race to cancel flights to the U.S because of concerns around the planned rollout …

Airlines worldwide found themselves in a race to cancel flights to the U.S because of concerns around the planned rollout of 5G technology by AT&T and Verizon, which could interfere with aircraft safety and navigation systems.

Flights were cancelled by airlines such as Emirates, Air India, All Nippon Airlines (ticker: ANA) and Japan Airlines (ticker: JAL). Even though AT&T and Verizon announced plans to temporarily delay switching on some wireless towers near certain airports, the airlines chose to err on the side of caution and still cancelled their flights.

The CEOs of major airlines, including American Airlines (ticker: AAL), Delta Airlines (ticker: DAL), and United Airlines (ticker: UAL), cautioned that the planned rollout of the new 5G technology could lead to “catastrophic disruptions” to the aviation industry.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden thanked the telecom companies for agreeing to delay the deployment of 5G around major airports and added that the agreement would help avert “potentially devastating disruptions” to U.S flights.

In a statement made by the CEO of Airlines for America, Nicholas Calio, it was made clear that the airline trade group had not yet seen the details of the agreements. “However, this pause provides the opportunity to ensure all stakeholders, consumers and the U.S economy are served in the long run.”

It wasn’t only U.S carriers that decided to cancel their flights; Dubai’s Emirates said it would cancel flights to the U.S, including major places like Boston, Newark, San Francisco and Seattle, as of January 19, pending further notice. The airline said it has operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S.

Air India took to its Twitter account to announce its planned cancellation of flights to Chicago, Newark, New York and San Francisco “due to the deployment of 5G communications” equipment. It, however, added that it would try to utilize other aircraft on its U.S routes.

The main concern driving the airlines’ decision to cancel flights is the concern that the C-band 5G signals will create interference likely to affect the sensitive equipment that aircraft use to take off and land, especially those used during bad weather conditions.

The Japanese airlines’ ANA and JAL called out the Boeing 777 aircraft as being particularly sensitive to 5G technology as they too announced their flight cancellations and schedule changes. Among the cancelled flights were several connecting flights from Tokyo to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and suspending ten cargo flights. JAL announced the cancellation of three flights that had been scheduled to take off on Wednesday, including connecting flights between Tokyo and New York, plus five cargo flights. “We have decided not to use this aircraft-type on U.S mainland routes until safety is confirmed, and we regret to cancel the flight that cannot be changed to Boeing,” said the airline in a statement.