5G Roll-out

Air India cancels flights to the United States, as do several international airlines, over 5G mobile communication roll-out fears

Published : January 19, 2022 16:23 IST

An Air India flight waiting to take off. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers, including American Airlines, FedEx Express, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Air, United Airlines and Jet Blue Airways, had cautioned that there would be "catastrophic disruption" in flight operations on account of the 5G roll-out.

Air India has cancelled a number of its long-haul flights to the United States, including on the Delhi-New York-Delhi, Delhi-San Francisco-Delhi, Delhi-Chicago-Delhi and Mumbai-Newark-Mumbai sectors, from January 19 until further notice. The cancellations come in the wake of concerns over the implementation of fifth generation (5G) mobile communications networks in the C-band, the frequency band that is allocated for commercial telecommunications via satellites.

Informing its passengers through a tweet, Air India stated: "Due to deployment of 5G communications in the USA, our operations to the USA from India stand curtailed/revised with change in aircraft type from 19th January 2022." And the Airline added: "Please standby for further updates."

Air India was not alone in cancelling flights as AT&T and Verizon, two of America’s biggest telecommunication giants, were all set to roll out their 5G networks across the U.S. Leading carriers, including Emirates and Japan Airlines, have also cancelled flights to the U.S., affecting flight operations to San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Newark, Dallas/Fort Worth, Orlando, Houston, Chicago, and Boston.

On January 16, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that it had "cleared an estimated 45 per cent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many of the airports where 5G C-band will be deployed on January 19". Added the FAA: "The agency approved two radio altimeter models that are installed in a wide variety of Boeing and Airbus planes. This combination of aircraft and altimeter approval opens up runways at as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-band interference."

Major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers, including American Airlines, FedEx Express, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Air, United Airlines and Jet Blue Airways, had cautioned that there would be chaos and a "catastrophic disruption" in flight operations on account of the 5G roll-out. Airlines have requested that 5G be implemented everywhere in the U.S. except within an area approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA directive on January 19, 2022.

On December 23 the FAA had released a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) regarding apprehensions over the possibility of 5G signal interference with aircraft radio altimeters, following which Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had requested the phone firms to delay the roll-out of 5G services. AT&T and Verizon, after initially rejecting the request, agreed to a two-week delay in 5G roll-out. A move that the FAA thanked.

As reported by Frontline, the 6,000-member-strong Federation of Indian Pilots has written to Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia asking that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) work in tandem to develop a plan that enables the safe and efficient implementation of 5G mobile communications networks in the C-band in India.

Stated the January 4-dated letter: "The FAA’s recent airworthiness directives (ADs) would restrict the use of approach and landing procedures during low visibility conditions. Other safety critical features such as aircraft and obstacle collision avoidance systems also depend on reliable radio altimeter performance. We at the Federation of Indian Pilots are concerned about the possible unintended consequences of not having full safety enhancement system capabilities available to pilots and about the considerable efforts to develop and communicate the mitigations to all segments of the aviation sector. These restrictions will adversely impact different aviation operations."