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Airlines are struggling to reject schedules due to concerns about the rollout of 5G in the US

Emirates Airline Boeing 777-300ER aircraft seen at Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 15 February 2019. REUTERS / Christopher Pike / File Photo

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January 19 (Reuters) - Major international airlines rushed to cancel or cancel flights to the U.S. ahead of a 5G wireless rollout on Wednesday that triggered security concerns, despite two wireless carriers saying they would delay parts of the implementation .

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

Despite an announcement from AT&T and Verizon that they would put the 5G rollout on pause near airports, several airlines were still canceling flights or changing flight models.

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Late Tuesday, the FAA began updating its guidance on which airports and aircraft models would be affected, in a move that is expected to dramatically reduce 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 that it would suspend flights to nine US destinations from January 19, the planned date for the deployment of 5G wireless services.

Emirates flights to New York's JFK, Los Angeles and Washington DC will continue to operate.

Japan's two major airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines (9201.T), said they would curtail Boeing 777 flights. ANA said it was canceling or modifying the aircraft used on some U.S. flights.

Korean Air Lines (003490.KS) said it had switched away from 777s and 747-8s on six U.S. passenger and cargo flights, Taiwan's China Airlines said it would reroute some flights, and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways said it would deploy different aircraft types if needed.

The airlines said they were acting in response to a message from Boeing (BA.N) that 5G signals could interfere with the 777 radio altimeter, leading to restrictions.

A Boeing spokesman had no immediate comment.

777 last year were the second most used widebody aircraft on flights to and from US airports with around 210,000 flights, after only 767, according to data from FlightRadar24.

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

Radio altimeters provide accurate readings of altitude on approach and assist with automatic landings, as well as verifying that the jet has landed before allowing reverse pressure.

Air India, which serves four U.S. destinations with Boeing 777s, said those flights would be curtailed or face changes in aircraft type as of Wednesday.

WORKING HORSE

The cancellation announcement came despite wireless operators delaying lighting some 5G towers near major airports.

Sources in the aviation industry said the decision had come too late to affect complex flight and crew decisions for some Wednesday flights.

British Airways chose to switch planes on its daily flight to Los Angeles to an Airbus (AIR.PA) A380 from the usual Boeing 777 service, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Webtracker Flightradar24 said that the A350 can also be used. The radio altimeters on the two Airbus jets have been cleared while the aircraft manufacturer is still evaluating its other models.

The 777 mini-jumbo is a workhorse in the long-distance travel market that remains depressed after COVID-19, while its cargo ship equivalent has reshaped the aviation route map during the pandemic, according to a spokesman for Flightradar24.

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

Qatar Airways, which operates both the 777 and A350 to the United States, said all 12 of its U.S. routes worked as planned, with minor delays expected on flights from the United States to Doha.

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Reporting by Tim Hepher and David Shepardson, Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney, Ed Copley in London, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Lilian Wagdy and Moataz Mohamed in Cairo; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Pullin

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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