On Tuesday, Emirates, Air India, ANA, and Japan Airlines all announced that they were canceling some flights to the US due to this week’s rollout of C-band 5G over concerns it could potentially interfere with some instruments, particularly on Boeing 777 aircraft. This comes as cell carriers, federal agencies, airlines, and airplane manufacturers struggle to reach an agreement on policies regarding how the rollout should be handled. The situation has continued to evolve as AT&T and Verizon switch on their c-band, but it’s only gotten messier.
ANA cites specific guidance from Boeing, saying that “Boeing has announced flight restrictions on all airlines operating the Boeing 777 aircraft.” Japan Airlines also cites a notification from Boeing, saying that it was told that “5G signals for U.S. mobile phones, which will begin operating in the U.S. on January 19, 2022, may interfere with the radio wave altimeter installed on the Boeing 777.”
However, Japan Airlines changed its guidance on Wednesday, saying it “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.” ANA has updated its advisory with similar language, saying that it’s returning to “the normal schedule based on FAA notification that there is no safety issue with the operation of Boeing 777 aircraft to the U.S. airports that we serve.” However, Emirates and Air India haven’t changed their guidance, and the FAA hasn’t publicly released an updated statement. The 777 isn’t currently on the regulator’s list of cleared aircraft.
Emirates’ announcement clearly outlines what’s being canceled. The airline, described as the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 777 by Reuters, says that it’s “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 airline will continue to fly to New York JFK, Los Angeles (LAX), and Washington, DC (IAD). Emirates says it’s “working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns” and that it hopes to start flying to the US again as soon as it’s able.
More airlines were affected as Tuesday progressed. Reuters reports that Taiwan’s China Airlines will reschedule some flights, while South Korea’s Korean Air Lines switched away from Boeing’s 777 and 747-8 aircraft on six flights to the US, and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific says it’s prepared to use different planes if necessary. Lufthansa had canceled at least one US flight and was switching from the Boeing 747-8 to the 747-400 aircraft on some US routes. Air India, Singapore Airlines, and Austrian Airlines were also switching out 777 aircraft for US flights.
Airline operators in the US warned earlier on Tuesday that the 5G rollout could cause “catastrophic disruption” to their flight schedules. According to the FAA, the concern is that the C-band 5G signals could interfere with the radar altimeters used in some planes, creating a safety issue. You can read our full explainer on the whole situation here.
Boeing didn’t respond immediately to The Verge’s request to confirm that it had sent out an advisory. Its competitor, Airbus, said that it will be working “as part of a wider industry coalition” to “study the issue further and work toward solutions.” For information on aircraft limitations, it referred to the FAA’s statements on 5G page, where a statement from January 16th lists the airplane models that have been approved to land at some airports under low-visibility conditions.
On Tuesday morning, both AT&T and Verizon announced that they would voluntarily delay 5G antenna upgrades near certain airports. The chairwoman for the Federal Communications Commission issued a statement saying it’s “essential that the FAA now complete” the process of assessing altimeter performance and the effect C-band 5G communication can have on it with “both care and speed.”
Update, January 19th 1:10PM ET: Added information about Japan Airlines saying it’ll be allowed to fly 777s per the FAA.
Update, January 19th, 5:27AM ET: Added information on additional airlines that have been affected with emphasis on Boeing 777 aircraft.