UPDATE: The problem with 5G networks near airports is being resolved now, and those involved believe that passengers will not see any more flight disruptions due to those issues.
These airlines have cited a variety of factors as the cause behind the cancelations, including bad weather and staffing shortages (and often a combination of both). But now there’s a new reason that your flight could be canceled.
According to ClickOrlando, the top airlines in America are warning passengers about a “‘catastrophic’ impact on flights this week in the United States.” Leaders at these airlines are concerned about the new 5G network being installed for AT&T and Verizon on towers around the nation.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cleared about 62% of commercial airplanes to fly near 5G towers (which is an increase from the previous 45% just a few days ago). The 5G rollout was already delayed once, but many commercial airline fleets are still not cleared to navigate near the receivers. An instructor at the Florida Institute of Technology has expressed concern about the effect the new network might have on the airplanes’ software.
The concern is mainly with the planes’ altimeter, which is an essential instrument that lets the pilots know how far they are from the ground. It’s especially important during landing and when visibility is low. An expert has stated that “there’s no way to predict exactly what [the altimeter] will do” in proximity to the new 5G network “because we just don’t know.”
Airline officials (including CEOs from American, Delta, and United Airlines) wrote a letter to the federal government expressing their concerns about the situation and requesting a longer delay of the 5G installations. In this letter, officials stated that the uncertainty could cause “as many as 1,100 flights [to] be canceled each day, consisting of about 100,000 passengers stranded every 24 hours.”
As a result of their request, AT&T and Verizon delayed their 5G activation on towers near some airports, according to CNN Business. Buffer zones were established around certain airports, which means that the 5G rollout would be delayed there but continue as planned in other areas. CNN Business reported that this buffer would allow “roughly 90% of 5G towers to be deployed. If agreed to, officials predict the cancellations could be avoided and impacts to the traveling public — while not eliminated — would be reduced.”
The Orlando International Airport is one of those buffer zones, so the 5G network has not been installed around this airport yet (Orlando Sentinel).
Going into the end of this week (on January 20th), the FAA has warned that snow storms in America will put the new 5G network’s affect on aircraft to the test (CNBC). Since there is still some concern about how the 5G signal could impact the planes’ altimeters, the FAA may divert flights where inclement weather is happening or likely to take place. Lower visibility from the storms makes the altimeters even more essential to pilots.
The airports that are most likely to be affected are in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and San Francisco, which could lead to traffic problems at other airports, including Detroit, Reno, Calif., Chicago, and Los Angeles.
This issue comes as airlines have continued to experience cancelations due to both bad weather and staffing shortages. Over the holiday season, thousands of flights were delayed or canceled as the omicron variant of COVID-19 took a toll on airline staff.
UPDATE: Just a few days after the initial concern, WESH reported that airline executives are satisfied with the solution to the problem of 5G near airports. According to the CEO of American Airlines, the “feel like [they’re] in the right spot” and don’t believe that passengers will see any more flight disruptions due to the 5G issues. A final resolution has not yet been reached, but those involved believe that it will be resolved soon.
Keep following DFB for more updates on the latest travel news!
Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!
Have you experienced a flight cancelation recently? Tell us about your experience in the comments!