American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and United’s Scott Kirby are happy that aircraft manufacturers and providers of onboard systems are now finally talking directly with 5G companies in the US about solving the safety concerns. But it makes him sad that there had to be an eleventh-hour row and pressure to delay the deployment of the 5G system.

Parker was asked about the issues during American’s 2021 results webcast. “Everyone agrees that it doesn’t make sense to deploy more 5G systems unless we are certain that it does not have a disruptive effect on airlines. I feel very good about this. The right people are talking to each other: the OEMs, Boeing, Airbus, Thales, Honeywell, Collins talking to their counterparts at AT&T and Verizon, obviously with FAA involvement.”

“Frankly, we are the end-user of this discussion. It is affecting our customers as it is affecting us. As it was being readied to be deployed, we were being told what it would mean to our operations. What should have happened, is happening now. The technical experts that are working on it tell us it isn’t really that complicated, so they seem encouraged that they are able to address it in a way that the full deployment of 5G. including at airports, will be possible without requiring any disruptions of air travel. I expect to see to come to a point that everyone concludes that when it is turned on, it works because no one wants to go through this again.”

Airlines already voiced their concerns about 5G for many months. When AT&T and Verizon announced their intention to deploy the system in the first week of January, more protests delayed this until January 19. Two days before that, US airlines of significant disruptions and safety issues near airports in a letter to the FAA and Secretary of Transport, Peter Buttigieg. The wireless responded by delaying the activation of systems again, but only at a limited number of airports.

‘This issue wasn’t created by the airlines’

During United’s webcast, Scott Kirby thanked the White House, the FAA, AT&T, and Verizon for agreeing to an approach to avoid severe disruptions. “This wasn’t an issue created by the airlines. Every carrier followed the rules dictated by the FAA. When we first heard about this issue in November, United did 100 percent engage to underscore the severe risks that 5G roll-out posed to aviation. Although we have no final resolution yet, I am confident we can get there, allowing the roll-out of 5G without significant impact on aviation. It’s done in forty countries around the world, we can do the same thing in the United States. I wish it would have happened earlier, but the good thing is we have now everyone engaged.”

Emirates wants long-term resolution

From Dubai, comments were made in a media statement by Emirates President and CEO Tim Clark. The carrier was forced to suspend some services to the US on Wednesday over potential radio altimeter issues on its Boeing 777s. Instead, it used the Airbus A380 on certain routes, although this type wasn’t on the list either. It was only until Wednesday evening that the FAA included the 777 in the list of aircraft with approved radio altimeter systems, too late to change the flight schedule for Thursday. Emirates will now resume all 777 services to the US on Friday. Other 777 operators that suspended flights, like ANA and JAL, have also reinstated services

“We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our customers by the temporary suspension of flights to some of our US destinations. Safety will always be our top priority, and we will never gamble on this front. We welcome the latest development which enables us to resume essential transport links to the US to serve travelers and cargo shippers”, said Clark. “However, we are also very aware that this is a temporary reprieve, and a long-term resolution would be required. Emirates will continue to work closely with the aircraft manufacturers and relevant regulators to ensure the safety and continuity of our services.”

The altimeter issue continues to affect operators of regional aircraft types like the Embraer E-jets and the Mitsubishi CRJs. Embraer says it is working closely with airlines and the authorities about solving the problems. Many regional carriers continue to operate their jets but only to airports that are safe or don’t have 5G switched on yet.

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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