US 5G rollout: Emirates to resume Boeing 777 flights to US

Update US 5G rollout: Emirates to resume Boeing 777 flights to US
Emirates President Tim Clark. (CNN’s Quest Means Business)
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Updated 20 January 2022

US 5G rollout: Emirates to resume Boeing 777 flights to US

US 5G rollout: Emirates to resume Boeing 777 flights to US
  • The airline said its Boeing 777 service to Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Newark, Orlando and Seattle would resume Friday

RIYADH: Dubai carrier Emirates said it would resume its Boeing 777 flights to the US amid an ongoing dispute over the rollout of the new 5G services there. 

The airline 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.

Tim Clark, Emirates president, apologized in a statement but warned that American officials had come up with only a “temporary reprieve” for the situation.
“A long-term resolution would be required,” he said.

Airlines across Asia and several in the Middle East and Europe said they were canceling some flights or switching models, with much of the initial disruption hitting the Boeing 777, for decades a workhorse of long-distance air travel.

Clark told CNN the carrier had not been aware of the extent of the problem until Tuesday and called it "one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible" episodes he had seen, a CNN reporter tweeted.

"We were not aware that the power of the antennas in the United States have been doubled compared to what's going on elsewhere. We were not aware that the antenna themselves have been put into a vertical position rather than a slight slanting position, which then taken together compromise not only the radio altimeter systems but the flight control systems on the fly by wire aircraft," he said.

Qatar Airways, another carrier from the GCC which operates both 777s and A350s to the United States, said it is still operating as normal while it was evaluating the situation.

Saudia Airlines, the Kingdom's national carrier, didn't announce any reaction to the situation yet. Saudia didn't respond to an email seeking comments that was sent to the Jeddah-based carrier in the morning.

Emirates flights to New York's JFK, Los Angeles and Washington DC will continue to operate.

UAE’s Etihad Airways is currently operating flights to New York, Washington DC and Chicago via the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The US’s plan to operate 5G networks will not impact the current airline’s passenger flights, Emarat Al Youm added, citing the company’s spokesman. 

Emirates Airlines had suspended some of its flights to the US, amid concerns with its deployment of 5G mobile network services. 

A Saudi pilot told Arab News: “The most undesirable outcome of interference is the indication of an undetected wrong height information given by the radio altimeter.”

“Depending on equipment model and aircraft type, this kind of error could have significant adverse impacts on flight safety,” Khalid Jameel added.

He said the potential error could impact a number of aircraft systems including Terrain Awareness Warning Systems (TAWS), Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems (ACAS), WINDSHEAR Detection Systems, Flight Control Systems, and Autoland Systems.

Dubai's Emirates, the largest user of the Boeing mini-jumbo, kicked off a slew of industry cancellations or aircraft changes late on Tuesday, saying it would suspend nine U.S. routes.

Japan's two major airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, said they would curtail Boeing 777 flights.

ANA said it was cancelling or changing the aircraft used on some U.S. flights. JAL said it would not use the 777 on U.S. mainland routes "until safety is confirmed," according to a notice to passengers reported by airline publication Skift.

Korean Air Lines said it had switched away from 777s and 747-8s on six U.S. passenger and cargo flights and expected to also change planes used on another six flights on Wednesday.

Taiwan's China Airlines said on Wednesday it would reschedule some flights, while Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways said it would deploy different aircraft types if needed.

Air India, which serves four U.S. destinations with Boeing 777s, said those flights would be curtailed or face changes in aircraft type starting from Wednesday.

The airlines said they were acting in response to a notice from Boeing that 5G signals may interfere with the radio altimeter on the 777, leading to restrictions.

A spokesman for Boeing had no immediate comment.

The 777 last year was the second-most used widebody plane on flights to and from U.S. airports with around 210,000 flights, behind only the 767, according to data from FlightRadar24.

Industry sources said Boeing had issued technical advisories noting potential interference, but that flight restrictions were in the hands of the FAA, which has for now limited operations at key airports unless airlines qualify for special approvals.

Radio altimeters give precise readings of the height above the ground on approach and help with automated landings, as well as verifying the jet has landed before allowing reverse thrust.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential 5G interference could affect height readings that play a key role in bad-weather landings on some jets and airlines say the Boeing 777 is among models initially in the spotlight.

Despite an announcement by AT&T and Verizon that they would pause the 5G rollout near airports, several airlines still canceled flights or switched aircraft models. Others said more cancellations were likely unless the FAA issued new formal guidance in the wake of the wireless announcements.

"While this is a positive development toward preventing widespread disruptions to flight operations, some flight restrictions may remain," Delta Air Lines said.

The world's largest operator of the Boeing 777, Dubai's Emirates, said it would suspend flights to nine U.S. destinations from Jan. 19, the planned date for the deployment of 5G wireless services.

The announcement of cancellations came despite the wireless carriers delaying turning on some 5G towers near key airports.

Airline industry sources said the decision had arrived too late to affect complex aircraft and crewing decisions for some Wednesday flights.

British Airways opted to switch aircraft on its daily flight to Los Angeles to an Airbus A380 from the usual Boeing 777 service, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

That entails pre-positioning a flight crew in Los Angeles to fly the Airbus superjumbo back to London on the return leg.

Web tracker Flightradar24 said the A350 may also be used. The radio altimeters on the two Airbus jets have been cleared while the planemaker is still assessing its other models.

The 777 mini-jumbo is a workhorse of the long-haul travel market that remains depressed following COVID-19, while its freighter equivalent has reshaped the aviation route map during the pandemic, according to a spokesperson for Flightradar24.

Not all 777 flights are affected. Emirates, which is also a major user of the larger A380, will switch to the larger aircraft for Los Angeles and New York but keep flying the 777 to Washington, which is not affected.

President Joe Biden hailed the agreement with the wireless carriers, saying it would allow more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled. He said they would work to "reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports."

(With Reuters)