Airline Schedule Disruptions Continue Despite 5G Reprieve

 - January 19, 2022, 1:55 PM
Emirates Airline has suspended Boeing 777 service into several U.S. cities amid continuing safety concerns over 5G C-band deployment. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY) by Sony SLT-A57)

Schedule disruptions among several international airlines continued Wednesday after U.S. telecom companies AT&T and Verizon agreed on Tuesday to again delay 5G implementation near certain major airports. Cancellations and other schedule modifications appeared to affect routes served by airplanes that are not on an FAA list of airplane models cleared to fly into some 50 airports. Issued Monday, the list conspicuously omitted the Boeing 777 and 787.

The impending 5G rollout on Tuesday prompted Emirates Airline to cancel flights “indefinitely” to Boston, Miami, Houston, Orlando, Seattle, Dallas, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare, and San Francisco. Japan Airlines (JAL), ANA, Air India, British Airways, and Lufthansa all announced flight cancellations as well. Both ANA and JAL noted that they could not arrange alternative service with their 787s.

Boeing confirmed it had sent a notice to operators on Tuesday about the potential for 5G signal interference with its 777s. On Wednesday, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive (AD) for all three variants of the 787 after determining that during landings, certain airplane systems might not properly transition from AIR to GROUND mode when landing on certain runways. As a result, pilots could experience degraded deceleration performance and longer landing distance than normal due to the effect on thrust reverser deployment, speed brake deployment, and increased idle thrust.

Specifically, the AD notes that autothrottle might remain in speed (SPD) mode and increase thrust to maintain speed during flare instead of reducing the thrust to IDLE at 25 feet radio altitude (RA) or might reduce thrust to IDLE prematurely. Meanwhile, thrust reversers might not deploy above 65 knots during the landing roll, engines might remain at approach idle after touchdown until 65 knots during the landing roll, and speed brakes may not operate during the landing roll. Other issues center on the airplane’s spoilers, which, for example, might not extend beyond their maximum in-flight position during manual deployment after touchdown until 65 knots during the landing roll.

In a statement sent to AIN Wednesday, British Airways welcomed the previous day’s announcement by the 5G providers to delay the activation at certain locations. Still, it added, it had to cancel “a handful” of flights on Wednesday because the 5G implantation delay did not apply to all the airports at which it operates.

“We are monitoring the situation in the U.S. closely and will continue to review our schedule in the next few hours,” BA said in the Wednesday morning statement. “We’re disappointed that some of our customers are facing potential disruption and will update them as soon as possible on any changes to their travel plans.”

In an interview with CNN, Emirates president Tim Clark made his position clear on the failure by U.S. regulators to settle the issue far earlier, calling the 5G rollout process “utterly irresponsible.”

“We were not aware of this until [Tuesday] morning to the extent that it was going to compromise the safety of operation of our aircraft and just about every other 777 operators to and from the United States and in the United States,” Clark told CNN. “We were not aware that the power of the antennas in the United States had been doubled compared to what’s going on elsewhere. We were not aware that the antennas themselves had been put into a vertical position rather than a slightly slanting position…This is one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible issues I’ve seen in my aviation career.”