5G fallout: Foreign airlines begin to reinstate Boeing 777 service to US

Jan 19, 2022

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

UPDATE: Foreign airlines are planning normal or only slightly reduced service to the U.S. from Thursday, a day after dozens of flights were canceled due to concerns about the Boeing 777’s radio altimeter as 5G C-band is rolled out in the U.S.

In a statement on its website, All Nippon Airways said that there was “FAA notification that there is no safety issue with the operation of Boeing 777 aircraft to the U.S. airports that we serve.”

Japan Airlines, another carrier that suspended its U.S. Boeing 777 service Wednesday, also plans to resume those flights, effective Thursday.

“Today on January 19,  we have 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,” the airline said in a statement on its website.

Emirates, which canceled all of its U.S. 777 service — nearly its entire U.S. schedule — is reinstating certain flights, though its overall schedule remains reduced.

On Thursday, Emirates’ flights to Boston (BOS), San Francisco (SFO) and Houston (IAH) will operate as scheduled. On Friday, those aircraft will operate the return flight to Dubai.

“Other flights to these destinations remain suspended,” a statement on Emirates’ website said.

ORIGINAL STORY: If you’re scheduled to fly on a foreign airline’s Boeing 777 to or from the U.S., you’ll want to double-check your flight’s status.

Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways all said on Tuesday that they were canceling some flights operated by the Boeing 777 due to 5G interference with the widebody’s radio altimeter.

Both Japanese airlines said that the move came at the request of Boeing.

“Boeing has announced flight restrictions on all airlines operating the Boeing 777 aircraft, and we have cancelled or changed the aircraft for some flights to/from the U.S. based on the announcement by Boeing,” ANA’s statement said.

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The two U.S. passenger operators of the 777, American Airlines and United Airlines, did not respond to a request for comment. A Boeing spokesperson referred TPG to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tuesday’s move by these foreign carriers occurred despite an agreement from AT&T and Verizon to temporarily pause the rollout of 5G C-band service near certain airports. It was unclear if this agreement factored into the decision-making of the foreign airlines.

In a statement, the FAA said that there will still be “some impacts” despite AT&T and Verizon restricting 5G near airports.

Emirates said it was canceling flights to and from Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Houston (IAH), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA), “until further notice.” All are routes on which Emirates flies the 777.

Air India was canceling its flights to and from Delhi (DELI) and New York (JFK), Delhi and SFO, Delhi and ORD and Mumbai (BOM) and EWR. That cancelation was in effect at least for Wednesday. Similarly, Air India flies its 777 on those routes.

Neither Japan Airlines nor ANA provided a list of canceled flights, but Cirium schedules data shows both carriers operate the 777 to JFK, Los Angeles (LAX) and ORD. Both airlines implied that some flights were to be swapped to the Boeing 787, an unaffected aircraft type.

More: Airlines stave off another 5G impasse with a late-but-temporary reprieve

Other large 777 operators to the U.S. — notably British Airways — had not revealed any cancellations.

More broadly, the Boeing 777 flight cancellations by the foreign carriers’ come amid a long-simmering dispute between their U.S. counterparts and the two telecommunications companies. The dispute centers on a piece of equipment called a radio (or radar) altimeter that is found in airliners.

A radio (or radar) altimeter is a type of instrument that is used to precisely measure an aircraft’s height above the ground. This type of instrument is essential during low-visibility conditions because the data from it is essential for pilots to be able to conduct high-precision instrument approaches and even automatic landings, allowing operations to continue in little to no visibility. A 2020 study found that 5G C-band, which operates on an adjacent set of the frequency spectrum, can interfere with this instrument. In addition, the FAA has warned that other flight deck instruments and safety systems that rely on radio altimeters could be also be affected.

Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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