Some airlines are canceling or threatening to cancel flights ahead of Wednesday’s launch of 5G wireless technology by AT&T and Verizon.
The two wireless operators agreed on Tuesday not to turn on 5G signals near some U.S. airport runways as a temporary concession to the airline industry that has claimed the new wireless signal interferes with instruments that help planes land during certain conditions.
An AT&T spokeswoman said Tuesday that while the company will wait to turn on a limited number of towers around some airport runways, it would launch 5G services “everywhere else as planned” on Wednesday.
Verizon agreed to do the same.
Despite the concessions from the wireless companies, some airlines said they were preparing to suspend flights if conditions warranted.
Delta Air Lines Inc. said Tuesday evening that it had plans in place in the event it had to cancel a flight due to weather conditions, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“While this is a positive development toward preventing widespread disruptions to flight operations, some flight restrictions may remain,” the airline said.
According to the Journal, Delta said it will automatically rebook customers whose flights are affected and will waive fare differences for customers who need to reschedule.
No other U.S. airline has announced any plans for flight cancellations.
Airlines have been negotiating with wireless companies over the implementation of 5G technology because they say it interferes with an airplane’s radar altimeter, one of the instruments on a plane that lets the pilot know how close to the ground the plane is.
A radar altimeter is not the same instrument as a standard altimeter. A radar altimeter relies on radio signals to determine absolute altitude, or the height the plane is above ground level.
A standard altimeter is different in that it uses air pressure readings to determine where the plane is in relation to the ground.
Altimeters help pilots to land when they are unable to get a clear view of the runway, such as in stormy weather or at night.
The airline industry argues that 5G technology is on a frequency close to the one used by aircraft for their radar altimeter. Wireless companies say 5G is safe because a “guard” has been placed between the two frequencies that would protect a plane’s radar altimeter system.
The Federal Aviation Administration in December issued an urgent order forbidding the use of the affected altimeters to land at an airport where low-visibility conditions exist. That means that some planes would not be able to land at some airports if the weather is bad.
The danger to aircraft systems, the FAA says, is from 5G cellular antennas that would be placed near some airports, not from a person’s cell phone or other mobile devices.
On Tuesday afternoon, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the rollout of cellular antennas within two miles from some U.S. airports.
Emirates, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Air India, Lufthansa and British Airways all announced changes to some flights, citing the issue. The airlines said Tuesday they will suspend some international flights because of concerns over 5G technology, according to the Journal.
Japan and All Nippon Airways said that Boeing has advised them not to fly the 777 wide-body airplane in the U.S. because of concerns that the technology will interfere with the operation of the aircraft.
Emirates said it would suspend flights into nine US airports: Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Miami, Newark, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle. The airline will continue flights into New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, Los Angeles International and Washington Dulles.
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