5G fallout: British Airways and Emirates among those to cancel US 777 flights

Jan 20, 2022

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Foreign airlines are planning normal or only slightly reduced service to the U.S. from Thursday, a day after dozens of flights were cancelled due to concerns about the Boeing 777’s radio altimeter as 5G C-band is rolled out in the U.S.

Related: 5G signals are having unexpected side effects on aircraft operations – how pilots are dealing with it

In a statement on its website, All Nippon Airways said that there was “FAA notification that there is no safety issue with the operation of Boeing 777 aircraft to the U.S. airports that we serve.”

Japan Airlines, another carrier that suspended its U.S. Boeing 777 service Wednesday, also plans to resume those flights, effective Thursday.

“Today on January 19,  we have received confirmation from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) that there is no longer a problem with the operation of the Boeing 777 and we will resume service to the U.S. mainland with Boeing 777 from January 20,” the airline said in a statement on its website.

Emirates, which cancelled all of its U.S. 777 service — nearly its entire U.S. schedule — is reinstating certain flights, though its overall schedule remains reduced.

On Thursday, Emirates’ flights to Boston (BOS), San Francisco (SFO) and Houston (IAH) will operate as scheduled. On Friday, those aircraft will operate the return flight to Dubai.

“Other flights to these destinations remain suspended,” a statement on Emirates’ website said.

If you’re scheduled to fly on a foreign airline’s Boeing 777 to or from the U.S., you’ll want to double-check your flight’s status just in case your flight has been affected. As of Thursday many airlines appear to be working to ease the disruptions of the previous days.

Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways had all cancelled some flights operated by the Boeing 777 due to 5G interference with the widebody’s radio altimeter, which is critical for landings. The new cell phone technology was launched Wednesday by U.S. carriers AT&T and Verizon, and it has created a chaotic situation for the aviation industry.

The problem, however, wasn’t limited to just those airlines.

British Airways is now running its services as normal from today but did initially cancel a handful of morning departure flights out of London Heathrow (LHR) to American cities such as Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and New York City (JFK) due to concerns over the deployment of new 5G technology. Those flights across the Atlantic are operated by the carrier’s fleet of 777s, the aircraft that is particularly affected by 5G.

“Safety is always our priority. We are monitoring the situation in the U.S. closely and will continue to review our schedule in the next few hours,” a BA spokesperson told the Independent. The airline is working to put passengers from the cancelled flights onto other planes.

Both Japanese airlines said that the move came at the request of Boeing.

“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’s statement said.

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The two U.S. passenger operators of the 777, American Airlines and United Airlines, did not respond to a request for comment. A Boeing spokesperson referred TPG to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tuesday’s move by the carriers occurred despite an agreement from AT&T and Verizon to temporarily pause the rollout of 5G C-band service near certain airports. It was unclear if this agreement factored into the decision-making of the airlines.

In a statement, the FAA said that there will still be “some impacts” despite AT&T and Verizon restricting 5G near airports.

Emirates said at the time it was cancelling flights to and from Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Houston (IAH), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA), “until further notice.” All are routes on which Emirates flies the 777.

Air India was cancelling its flights to and from Delhi (DELI) and New York (JFK), Delhi and SFO, Delhi and ORD and Mumbai (BOM) and EWR. That cancellation was in effect at least for Wednesday. Similarly, Air India flies its 777 on those routes.

Neither Japan Airlines nor ANA provided a list of cancelled flights, but Cirium schedules data shows both carriers operate the 777 to JFK, Los Angeles (LAX) and ORD. Both airlines implied that some flights were to be swapped to the Boeing 787, an unaffected aircraft type.

Related: Airline study warns of massive impact if FAA 5G directive takes effect in the U.S.

More broadly, the Boeing 777 flight cancellations by the foreign carriers’ come amid a long-simmering dispute between their U.S. counterparts and the two telecommunications companies. The dispute centres on a piece of equipment called a radio (or radar) altimeter that is found in airliners.

A radio (or radar) altimeter is a type of instrument that is used to precisely measure an aircraft’s height above the ground. This type of instrument is essential during low-visibility conditions because the data from it is essential for pilots to be able to conduct high-precision instrument approaches and even automatic landings, allowing operations to continue in little to no visibility. A 2020 study found that 5G C-band, which operates on an adjacent set of the frequency spectrum, can interfere with this instrument. In addition, the FAA has warned that other flight deck instruments and safety systems that rely on radio altimeters could be also be affected.

Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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