Major international airlines canceled flights heading to the U.S. or changed the planes they’re using Wednesday, the latest complication in a dispute over concerns that 5G mobile phone service could interfere with aircraft technology.
Some airlines said they were warned that the Boeing 777, a plane used by carriers worldwide, was particularly affected by the new high-speed wireless service. The aircraft is the workhorse for Dubai-based Emirates, a key carrier for East-West travel, and its flight schedule took one of the biggest hits.
It was not clear how disruptive the cancellations would be. Several airlines said they would try to merely use different planes to maintain their service.
The cancellations and changes came a day after mobile phone carriers AT&T and Verizon said they would postpone new wireless service near some U.S. airports planned for this week. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has cleared a number of aircraft to fly into airports with 5G signals, but the Boeing 777 is not on the list.
Similar mobile networks have been deployed in dozens of other countries — sometimes with concessions like reducing the power of the networks near airports, as France has done. But in the U.S., the issue has pitted the FAA and the airlines against the Federal Communications Commission and the telecoms companies.
The 5G service uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by radio altimeters, which are devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground and help pilots land in low visibility. The FCC, which set a buffer between the 5G band and the spectrum that planes use, determined that it could be used safely in the vicinity of air traffic. AT&T and Verizon have said their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics.
But FAA officials saw a potential problem, and the telecom companies agreed to a pause while it is addressed.
On Wednesday, Emirates announced it would halt flights to several American cities due to “operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S. at certain airports.” It said it would continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns, and we hope to resume our U.S. services as soon as possible,” the state-owned airline said.