US airline CEOs warn of “chaos” as 5G controversy causes flight cancellations

Telecommunication tower with 4G, 5G transmitters. Cellular base station with transmitter antennas on a telecommunication tower on against a blue sky with clouds. Tinted

The implementation of 5G towers around the US has been described as “chaos” in a letter from the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and others.

The controversy surrounding 5G caused Emirates, Air India, ANA, and Japan Airlines to announce the suspension of flights to several US destinations due to potential 5G mobile interference.

Emirates’ announcement is one of the clearest about what’s being cancelled. The airline said it is “suspending flights to the following US destinations from 19 January 2022 until further notice,” listing Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Newark, Orlando, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service network could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” warned the CEOs.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.

Some experts said 5G could blind a plane’s automatic landing system.

As 5G uses higher frequencies of electromagnetic waves than the 4G network, it could interfere with a plane’s altimeter, which measures the distance of a plane above the ground by pinging an electromagnetic pulse and listening for the reflected signal.

This is because altimeters operate at frequencies of 4.2-4.4 GHz, while the new 5G towers will operate at a spectrum of 3.7-3.98 GHz (known as the C-band) meaning it could blind the instrument with signal noise.

The FAA also warned that interference substantial enough to halt the use of automated cockpit systems could lead to flight cancellations, diversions, or delays in 46 of the largest metro areas in the US.

The aviation trade group, Airlines for America claimed that 5G-related interference could threaten to disrupt as many as 350,000 flights per year.

This includes flights from the US to Australia, said aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas.

“The operations that could be impacted include Qantas flights from Australia to Los Angeles,” he said.

However, there have been conflicting reports of the impact that the 5G signal will have on aircraft.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said there is no proof that 5G will interfere with plane instruments.

Some 40 countries have authorised the use of 5G in the C-band, without a single report of harmful interference, according to the ABC.

A recent letter from six former heads of the FCC said the FAA, “threatens to derail the reasoned conclusions reached by the FCC after years of technical analysis and study.”

The rollout of 5G does not appear to be an issue for Aussie airports, according to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

CASA said there have been no reports of radio altimeter incidents linked to 5G since the telecommunications technology rolled out two years ago.

One reason there have been no reports of incidents, CASA said, is because Australian 5G transmissions top out at 3.7GHz, making a larger buffer with the frequencies used by radio altimeters.

India’s 5G services top out at 3.6GHz, while Europe and the UK’s go up to 3.8GHz.

CASA has asked pilots to monitor and report any abnormalities.

Featured image: iStock/Lari Bat

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