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Explained: Why Flights Are Being Canceled Due to 5G Roll Out in US?

Calling it disastrous, ten leading US airlines warned that the new technology could cause thousands of flights to be delayed, and risks leaving large parts of the US aircraft fleet grounded indefinitely.

Published: January 19, 2022 11:03 AM IST

By Ritu Singh

Tata Group To Take Over Air India Today, Chairman N Chandrasekaran To Meet PM Modi Shortly
Tata Group was handed over Air India by the government on Thursday. (File Photo)

New Delhi: Several international airlines have announced that they will cancel flights into the United States starting Wednesday due to concerns about 5G deployments planned for January 19. Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have all announced that they are canceling flights due to rollout of C-band 5G over concerns it could potentially interfere with some instruments. Air India announced on Twitter that it would cease flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

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The development comes after US aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that 5G interference with the aircraft’s radio altimeter could prevent engine and braking systems from transitioning to landing mode, which could prevent an aircraft from stopping on the runway.

Calling it disastrous, ten leading US airlines warned that the new technology could cause thousands of flights to be delayed, and risks leaving large parts of the US aircraft fleet grounded indefinitely.

What is 5G?

Like 4G before it, 5G is a cellular technology. Fifth-generation wireless technology, popularly known as 5G, promises to deliver ultrafast internet speeds, extra bandwidth and increased connectivity. As the world races to implement this technology, US telecom giants Verizon and AT&T are all set to rollout 5G technology today. These new cellular frequencies will boost connections for tens of millions of phones throughout the US. Once these airwaves are activated, one will be able to download an entire movie to your phone in just a few minutes.

Does 5G interfere with planes?

Aviation regulators and airlines have repeatedly raised concerns that the new technology would interfere with safety equipment used to determine a plane’s altitude. As per a Reuters report, the airlines have warned that the new C-Band 5G service could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable and cause ‘chaos’ for US flights.

In the wake of airlines’ warnings about “catastrophic” disruption, both Verizon and AT&T have agreed to temporarily defer turning on some wireless towers near key airports to avert a significant disruption to U.S. flights.

Why exactly are flights being cancelled? 

Simply put, the flights are being cancelled because the risk to the planes because of 5G is potentially very serious. 5G relies on radio signals and in the US, the radio frequencies being used for 5G are in part of the spectrum known as C-Band. According to Reuters, these frequencies are close to those used by radio altimeters on aeroplanes to measure their altitude. Radio altimeters are essential as they help to minimize the risk of accidents or collisions by giving an accurate reading of the proximity to the ground.

In the airline industry, altimeters operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz range and there are concerns that there is not a big enough buffer from the frequencies to be used by the telecoms companies. The airlines fear that interference from 5G transmissions can interfere with the instruments and create a serious safety hazard, particularly when aircraft are coming in to land. Airlines for America, which represents 10 major carriers, warned that this could lead to more than 1,000 flights being delayed or cancelled in bad weather and mean at times “the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded”.

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