Pete Buttigieg cautions about potential flight disruptions as the deadline for 5G implementation approaches

Pete Buttigieg cautions about potential flight

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is cautioning about potential disruptions in air travel as the deadline approaches for airlines to upgrade their equipment to avoid interference from 5G wireless signals. From July 1, aircraft that have not undergone the necessary equipment changes will not be permitted to land in certain weather conditions with low visibility. Buttigieg emphasizes the risk of delays or cancellations, considering it to be the most significant foreseeable problem impacting summer performance.

While summer travel has been relatively smooth thus far, the severity of the potential impact is uncertain and dependent on weather conditions. Buttigieg is urging airlines to expedite installations before low visibility conditions become more prevalent after summer or adjust their schedules accordingly.

While some airlines anticipate no problems as they have already updated their equipment or can work around restrictions for aircraft without updates, the rollout of 5G has caused conflicts between the aviation and telecom industries, as well as government agencies overseeing them. Aviation safety officials have expressed concerns that certain 5G signals could confuse devices used to measure an aircraft’s distance from the ground, which is crucial for landing in poor weather. Wireless companies have disputed these claims.

Last year, the issue escalated when some international flights were canceled due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s planned restrictions if wireless providers started transmitting the new signals to customers. A compromise was reached, delaying the launch of certain 5G services near major airports while sensitive radar altimeters were retrofitted. The deadline for compliance with the retrofitting requirement is now July 1, after approximately 18 months.

As the deadline approaches, Buttigieg states that over 80% of the domestic fleet and around 65% of international aircraft flying to the U.S. have radar altimeters that won’t be susceptible to 5G interference. However, some airlines and industry groups argue that supply chain issues and certification delays have made meeting the July 1 deadline impossible.

Airlines for America, a group representing U.S. airlines, acknowledges the challenges of global supply chain constraints and asserts that carriers have communicated this reality to the government. They express confidence in maintaining schedules despite the difficulties. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing global airlines, notes that carriers are taking steps to ensure that only fully-equipped aircraft operate to the U.S. Air India confirms that all planes currently serving U.S.-India routes have the required altimeters.

Aviation and engineering experts suggest that the retrofitting process is relatively straightforward but time-consuming, and retrofitting an entire active fleet quickly can be complex. The IATA estimates the cost of retrofitting, which airlines are responsible for, to be nearly $638 million.

Delta Air Lines reports that its supplier informed them they will not have enough radio altimeters for the entire fleet by July 1 due to supply chain challenges. Approximately 190 narrow-body jets, including all Airbus A220 jets and some other Airbus models, will not be equipped with updated altimeters by the deadline. Delta is working to redirect these planes away from airports that could be affected by weather conditions and expects minimal operational impact as they continue to make progress in equipping more planes.

JetBlue expects to upgrade its 17 A220 jets by October, but until then, there may be a limited impact on low-visibility days in Boston starting July 1. United Airlines states that all of its mainline planes are ready, Southwest Airlines says its current altimeters can operate without restriction, and American Airlines confirms that its retrofitting efforts are on track to be completed by the deadline.