The president of Dubai-based Emirates Airline slammed the US’s handling of a 5G network rollout that sparked flight safety fears on Wednesday, referring to the situation as “utterly irresponsible.”
Emirates President Tim Clark spoke after the international airline canceled many US-bound flights due to concerns that 5G service set to deploy Wednesday could interfere with sensitive instruments on passenger planes, including the popular Boeing 777.
“This is one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible issues, subjects – call it what you like – I’ve seen in my aviation career,” Clark said during a scathing interview with CNN.
“Somebody should have told them a long time ago that it would compromise safety of operation of aircraft in metropolitan areas, with catastrophic consequences, if it was allowed to continue. I think that message got through at a very, very late stage,” Clark added.
Emirates was one of several foreign airlines to cancel or change planned flights because of the 5G rollout. The airline said flights to several major US cities were suspended “until further notice” while it worked to address safety concerns.
In his interview, Clark said Emirates was not aware of the scope of the problem until shortly before the 5G deployment was set to begin.
“We were not aware of this until yesterday morning, to the extent that it was going to compromise the safety of the operation of our aircraft and just about every other 777 operator to and from the United States and within the Unites States.”
Clark added that Emirates opted to suspend the flights until it can get “clarity” on the safety considerations.
The FAA has warned that 5G signals could interfere with sensitive altitude meters that some plane models use to conduct landings in low-visibility conditions.
AT&T and Verizon agreed to temporarily delay their rollout of 5G networks in areas near major US airports. Their decision followed protests from US airline CEOs who warned the rollout could cause chaos for domestic air travel, including widespread flight cancellations.
The 5G rollout appeared to have a minor impact on early flights Wednesday. Just 209 US flights were canceled as of Wednesday morning, according to tracking data from FlightAware, though the number will likely grow throughout the day.
A representative for Southwest Airlines told the New York Post the airline was not expecting a major impact to its operations on Wednesday.
“We expect minimal disruptions from 5G implementation and, currently, are limited to very few cancelations on the West Coast,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to monitor weather and runway conditions at the 5G impacted airports, utilizing the plans we built to manage the operation in this environment.”