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5G launches in US without huge impact on flights

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US President Joe Biden is looking to change the narrative as he enters his second year in office./AFP
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Jan 20, 2022 - 03:43 AM

NEW YORK — Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon began 5G service in the United States Wednesday without major disruptions to flights after the launch of the new wireless technology was scaled back.

A handful of international carriers removed flights to the United States from their schedules Wednesday, but there were not mass cancelations and some of those companies said they planned to resume service on Thursday.

At 1915 GMT Wednesday, there were 261 flights either planned to depart or land in US airports that were cancelled, according to the website FlightAware. That figure is less than the 538 reported last Wednesday, although the number could climb throughout the day.

Airlines that had cut flights for Wednesday included Emirates, Air India, ANA and Japan Airlines.

Both ANA and Japan Airlines said they were restoring service on Thursday after assurances from regulators at the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“As the launch of the 5G service in the US has now been partially postponed, operation of ANA flights from January 20 will follow the normal schedule based on FAA notification that there is no safety issue with the operation of Boeing 777 aircraft to the US airports that we serve,” said a statement from ANA President Yuji Hirako.

Telecom giants spent tens of billions of dollars to obtain 5G licenses last year but aviation industry groups have raised concerns about possible interference with airplanes’ radio altimeters, which can operate at the same frequencies and are vital for landing at night or in bad weather.

On Tuesday, both AT&T and Verizon agreed to scale back the launch of 5G near airports following an outcry from US airlines, who warned of mass disruptions. The White House, which was has negotiated with both the aviation and telecommunications industries, praised the move.

The FAA said Wednesday that it has now approved 62 percent of the US commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports with 5G. That’s an increase from the 45 percent on Sunday.

“Even with these approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected,” the agency said.

“The FAA also continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines for latest flight schedules.”

Airlines for America, a Washington lobbying group representing the industry, said thousands of flights took off on Wednesday because of the agreement the day prior.

“While there is still work to be done by all stakeholders, this is an important step toward achieving a permanent solution and allowing the US to continue leading the world in aviation safety while also expanding our nation’s 5G network,” the group said.

AT&T said Wednesday its high-speed service was available in “limited parts” of eight major metropolitan areas across the United States, while Verizon said it now provides 5G coverage to 90 million Americans.

Hans Vestberg told CNBC that he was confident the issues with the airline industry would be “cleared out” following collaboration with “all involved parties, including the White House.”

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