The activation of 5G mobile technology deployed in the United States is causing scheduling chaos for airlines in many countries, forced to cancel or reschedule dozens of flights due to the technical restrictions involved. 

The new regulations affect companies in Emirates, Korea, Japan, Germany, India, and Singapore at least, in what for some is a “nightmare,” despite some telecommunications companies postponing the activation of 5G at certain airports, according to Reuters on Jan. 19. 

For his part, the president of Dubai-based Emirates airline, Tim Clark, said it was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” he had seen, according to CNN.

He described the impact of the move “… it was going to compromise the safety of operation of our aircraft and just about every other 777 operator to and from the United States and within the United States.”

One of the potential risks cited by airlines and aircraft manufacturers is that the new 5G C-band service could disrupt altitude measurement devices used by aircraft.

To reduce potential harm, AT&T and Verizon Communications agreed Tuesday to delay the rollout of 5G near key airports, a decision that some felt was made too late. 

“The last-minute postponement happened too late to stop the crews being sent out for today’s (return) flight. It just made it a nightmare,” said one pilot for a major European airline.

For its part, AT&T lashed out at the Federal Aviation Administration, noting: “inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner.”

What’s more, it’s not just about international chaos, but it significantly hurts airline economics, according to UK-based Aviation Strategy managing partner James Halstead.

“It’s the off season, so in January or February airlines will be losing money and that’s not counting the impact of the pandemic. At the moment they are fighting for survival,” said Halstead. 

And he explained another cause of losses: “Where it might hurt is that some airlines are using the same long-haul aircraft to carry freight.”

Concern was expressed in the United States by the CEOs of major airlines, who warned of a “catastrophic disruption.”

Last month the world’s two leading aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, asked the U.S. government to delay the launch of new phone services under 5G technology, citing considerable security risks.

“Interference from 5G could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to operate safely,” the heads of those companies, Dave Calhoun and Jeffrey Knittel, said in a joint letter to the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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