EVERETT — Alaska Airlines canceled nearly two dozen flights in and out of Paine Field on Monday due to the rollout of 5G cellular technology near the airport.
The cancellations are the combined result of last week’s 5G activation, poor weather conditions and the type of aircraft that Alaska operates at the Snohomish County-owned airport.
“Alaska has canceled 23 flights on Monday related to the activation of 5G C-Band service. They are all flights into and out of Paine Field,” spokesman Ray Lane said in an email to The Daily Herald.
Embraer 175 jets, which Alaska Air Group subsidiary Horizon Air operates at Paine Field, have not been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration to land in low visibility or other poor weather near 5G towers. As a result, the Seattle-based carrier was forced to cancel Paine Field flights.
On Tuesday, the airline canceled six Paine Field flights as fog continues to shroud the Everett area.
“The 5G network could interfere with the plane’s radio altimeter and other crucial onboard systems,” Lane said. “We continue to wait for additional guidance from the FAA.”
Radio altimeters provide highly accurate information about an aircraft’s height above the ground. The data informs other safety equipment on the plane, including navigation instruments, terrain awareness and collision-avoidance systems, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
For travelers who have been affected, a flexible travel policy is now in effect, Lane said.
“We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused for a good number of our guests,” Lane said. “It’s an issue outside of Alaska’s control.”
Said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, which operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field: “It is unfortunate that the appropriate government agencies have failed to adequately prepare for the 5G rollout and are now inconveniencing tens of thousands of people throughout the country.”
Paine Field spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said the airport is monitoring the issue and “what it might mean for the operations of our tenants.”
Federal regulators continue to determine which radio altimeters are reliable and accurate where 5G is deployed in the United States.
“We anticipate some altimeters will be too susceptible to 5G interference,” the FAA said in a statement. “To preserve safety, aircraft with those altimeters will be prohibited from performing low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed because the altimeter could provide inaccurate information.”
Paine Field was one of 50 airports listed by federal regulators that would be impacted by the 5G rollout that began last week across markets in the U.S. As of Thursday, the FAA said, it had cleared 78% of the U.S. commercial fleet for operations near 5G towers when weather is poor.
The Boeing Co.’s test schedule at Paine Field was not affected on Monday, a Boeing spokesman said.
According to the FAA, airplane models with one of 13 cleared altimeters, including all Boeing 717s, 737s, 747s, 757s, 767s, 777s and 787s, are authorized to complete low-visibility landings where wireless companies have deployed a 5G network.
If weather conditions continue, Alaska and Horizon Air might need to further cancel, delay or divert flights at airports with low visibility 5G restrictions, Lane said.