Long-haul carrier Emirates said Thursday it will resume its Boeing 777 flights to the U.S. after halting its use of the aircraft there over concerns new 5G services in America could interfere with airplane technology that measures altitude.
International carriers that rely heavily on the wide-body Boeing 777, and other Boeing aircraft, canceled early flights or switched to different planes Wednesday following warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Chicago-based plane maker over possible interference with radio altimeters.
The FAA gave approval late Wednesday for more types of planes to land in low visibility near 5G signals, including the Boeing 777.
Among the most-affected airlines by the FAA decision was Dubai-based Emirates, a crucial East-West travel airline that flies only the 777 and the double-decker Airbus A380.
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Tim Clark, Emirates president, apologized in a statement to the airline's customers for the disruption.
“Safety will always be our top priority, and we will never gamble on this front,” Clark said. “We welcome the latest development which enables us to resume essential transport links to the U.S. to serve travellers and cargo shippers.”
However, he added: “We are also very aware that this is a temporary reprieve, and a long-term resolution would be required.” That refers to Verizon and AT&T only temporarily reducing the rollout of 5G near dozens of airports as the FAA assesses which aircraft are safe to fly near the new 5G frequencies and which will need new altimeters.
Similar 5G mobile networks have been deployed in more than three dozen countries, but there are key differences in how the U.S. networks are designed that raised concern of potential problems for airlines. The Verizon and AT&T networks use a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to the one used by radio altimeters, devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground to help pilots land in low visibility.
Clark said Emirates was generally aware of the U.S.' 5G rollout situation but was not made aware of some important differences until Tuesday morning — a day before the 5G service upgrade was scheduled to kick in — leading to the company's decision to cancel flights.
"This is one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible issues I've seen in my aviation career," Clark said of the situation in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. "Somebody should have told them a long time ago that it would compromise safety of operation of aircraft in metropolitan areas, with catastrophic consequences if this was allowed to continue. I think that message got through at a very, very late stage."
The Federal Communications Commission, which set a buffer between the frequencies used by 5G and altimeters, has said the wireless service posed no risk to aviation. But FAA officials saw a potential problem, and have since been checking aircraft to confirm interference wouldn't affect the landing systems.
Emirates said its Boeing 777 service to Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Newark, Orlando and Seattle would resume Friday.
Flights to Boston, Houston and San Francisco, which saw Emirates deploy its Airbus A380 jumbo jet, will resume Boeing 777 flights on Saturday.