Emirates chief says US authorities 'irresponsible’ for 5G roll out notification failure

Several airlines have halted flights temporarily to some US destinations

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Emirates airline president Sir Tim Clark said he was unaware of the potential danger posed by the introduction of 5G networks in the US until Tuesday morning.

Several international airlines, including Emirates, temporarily halted flights to some US destinations amid concerns that new C-band 5G wireless networks might interfere with sensitive safety equipment on planes.

Emirates announced on Wednesday that operations to Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Newark, Orlando and Seattle were suspended.

The Dubai airline said its flights to New York JFK, Los Angeles and Washington DC would continue to operate as scheduled, while only certain services would operate to Boston, Houston and San Francisco.

A day later, Emirates announced it will be resuming flights to all nine destinations that were temporarily suspended this week. The airline amended the travel notice on its website, which previously advised passengers that flights would not be taking off amid concerns surrounding the rollout of 5G mobile network near airports.

The updated notice states that flights are no longer suspended.

Flights to Chicago, Orlando, Miami, Dallas Fort Worth, Seattle and Newark will resume on Friday. Flights to Houston, San Fransisco and Boston will resume on Saturday.

Etihad Airways said its services to the US are not currently affected by the issue.

The national airline of the UAE will continue to operate flights to New York, Washington DC and Chicago as scheduled, the airline said on Wednesday.

'Utterly irresponsible'

Speaking on CNN, Mr Clark described the situation as "one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible" in his aviation career.

"We were not aware of this until Tuesday morning, to the extent it was going to compromise the safety of operation of our aircraft and just about every other 777 operator to and from the United States and within the United States," Mr Clark told CNN's Richard Quest.

While he was aware of a 5G issue, he said Emirates was not aware that the power of the antennae in the United States has been "doubled compared to what's going on elsewhere".

"So on that basis, we took that decision late last night to suspend all our services until we had clarity," he said.

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Giving his opinion on the situation, Mr Clark said: "I need to be as candid as I normally am and say this is one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible issues [or] subjects, call it what you like, I've seen in my aviation career.

"Somebody should have told them at the time that it would compromise the safety of operation of aircraft in metropolitan areas with catastrophic consequences if this was allowed to continue."

He said its full US services will be restored if the launch of 5G is suspended and the question of interference of their aircraft systems on approach and landing is resolved.

On Tuesday, AT&T and Verizon said they would temporarily delay turning on some wireless towers near key US airport runways to avert a looming aviation crisis after discussions with President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday.

How does 5G affect aviation?

Telecom giants spent tens of billions of dollars to obtain 5G licences, but, as the launch date approached, aviation industry groups raised concerns about possible interference with aircraft radio altimeters – which can operate at the same frequencies – particularly in bad weather.

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

Altimeters operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz range and the concern is that the auctioned frequencies are too close to this range.

Updated: January 20, 2022, 9:31 AM