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Airlines scramble to rejig schedules amid U.S. 5G rollout concerns

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Major international airlines rushed to rejig or cancel flights to the United States ahead of a 5G wireless rollout on Wednesday that has triggered safety concerns, despite two wireless carriers saying they will delay parts of the deployment, according to Reuters.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had warned that potential 5G interference could affect height readings that play a key role in bad-weather landings on some jets and airlines say the Boeing 777 is among models initially in the spotlight.

Despite an announcement by AT&T and Verizon that they would pause the 5G rollout near airports, several airlines still cancelled flights or switched aircraft models.

Late Tuesday, the FAA began updating its guidance on which airports and aircraft models would be affected, in a move expected to dramatically lessen the impact of the nearly 1,500 notices of 5G restrictions issued by the regulator.

The world’s largest operator of the Boeing 777, Dubai’s Emirates, said earlier it would suspend flights to nine U.S. destinations from January 19, the planned date for the deployment of 5G wireless services.

Germany’s Lufthansa said it had cancelled a flight from Frankfurt to Miami and was switching aircraft used on some U.S. services from Boeing 747-8 to 747-400. Subsidiary Austrian Airlines would switch from a 777 to a 767 on its Newark service.

The airlines said they were acting in response to a notice from Boeing that 5G signals may interfere with the radio altimeter on the 777, leading to restrictions. A spokesperson for Boeing had no immediate comment.

Industry sources said Boeing had issued technical advisories noting potential interference, but that flight restrictions were in the hands of the FAA, which has for now limited operations at key airports unless airlines qualify for special approvals.

The announcement of cancellations came despite the wireless carriers delaying turning on some 5G towers near key airports. Airline industry sources said the decision had arrived too late to affect complex aircraft and crewing decisions for some Wednesday flights.

Not all 777 flights are affected. Emirates, which is also a major user of the larger A380, will switch to the larger aircraft for Los Angeles and New York but keep flying the 777 to Washington, which is not affected.