The aviation industry is gearing up for a potential disruption as the deadline for upgrading altimeters to counter 5G interference approaches. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently cautioned that starting July 1st, there could be airline delays or cancellations if passenger jets fail to implement the necessary upgrades. In a report by The Wall Street Journal, it was highlighted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has raised concerns about potential interference between 5G C-band signals and radio wave emitters used by passenger jets to determine altitude during low-visibility landings.
Impending Deadline and International Jet Status:
Although airlines are not officially required to complete the altimeter upgrades until February 2024, any passenger jets that have not been certified to operate around C-band 5G signals by July 1st will be prohibited from landing in certain low-visibility scenarios. While the majority of the US domestic airline fleet is already prepared, with over 80 percent of planes having undergone the necessary upgrades, around 65 percent of international jets flying to the US still require fixing. However, the International Air Transport Association has assured the public that airlines will strive to avoid disruptions and are favoring aircraft equipped with the required altimeters for flights to the US. Notably, Air India has confirmed that all of its planes have the necessary equipment in place.
Airlines’ Confidence and Exceptions:
Despite the potential challenges, airlines maintain a positive outlook, asserting that there will likely be minimal impact on operations. Most US airlines anticipate having their entire fleets fully upgraded by the July 1st deadline. However, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue will not meet the target, with 190 and 17 planes still requiring upgrades, respectively. The Airlines for America trade association has attributed the delays to global supply chain issues, which have made it difficult to meet the deadline.
The 5G Feud and Expansion Delays:
The Federal Communications Commission, along with wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon, encountered obstacles in their 5G expansion plans in 2021 when the FAA expressed concerns about potential interference with aviation equipment due to 5G C-band signals. This sparked a prolonged dispute over tower activation locations and signal power thresholds. Initially postponed until January 2022, the full expansion of the crucial 5G band experienced further delays, moving the deadline to July 5th, 2022, and eventually settling on July 1st of the current year.
Potential Impact on Flights:
As of now, only flights on planes that have not undergone the necessary 5G-interference-busting equipment installation may face setbacks. These disruptions would primarily occur when landing in low-visibility conditions. For instance, a JetBlue spokesperson acknowledged the possibility of a “limited impact” in Boston on low-visibility days beginning July 1st.
With the deadline for 5G-related altimeter upgrades fast approaching, the aviation industry is taking proactive measures to ensure the smooth functioning of flights amidst concerns over potential delays and cancellations. While the majority of US airlines remain confident in meeting the deadline, certain carriers, such as Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, are likely to miss it due to global supply chain challenges. As the industry navigates this technological transition, it is vital for both airlines and regulatory bodies to address the ongoing concerns and ensure passenger safety while embracing the benefits of advanced 5G technology.