Carriers won’t have their fleets fitted in time for the current deadline.
US airlines are pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to extend its altimeter retrofit deadline to June 2024 as their fleets won’t be ready within the current timeframe. Under the FAA’s proposal, carriers would be required to retrofit certain altimeters by July this year to avoid 5G interference.
Airlines want more time for retrofits
Trade group Airlines 4 America (A4A) – which represents 10 US carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines – has “strongly urged” the FAA to extend its deadline to June 2024 to give airlines enough time to retrofit their fleets. The group has asked for the extension “to reflect technical realities and the continued safe operation of many aircraft” just a week after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said many airlines would fail to meet the deadline due to supply chain issues, certification delays, and logistical challenges.
Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
Calls for a deadline extension were echoed by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) on behalf of several industry players, including Airbus and Boeing. The association highlighted the Airworthiness Directive’s (AD) deficiencies and made several recommendations, including clarification on compliance, procedures and uniform coverage.
The AIA said,
“We find significant deficiencies in the existing text to adequately provide equivalent levels of safety for airplane operations in the NAS given the rapid growth of 5G C-band emissions in the United States.”
In January, the FAA proposed setting a February 2024 deadline for all commercial and cargo aircraft to retrofit 5G C-Band-tolerant radio altimeters or approved filters. In fact, the FAA had initially wanted airlines to retrofit their fleets by July 2023, a move which IATA deemed an “ad hoc unilateral and unrealistic pronouncement” with no consensus among carriers.
Operational disruption on the horizon
One of the major concerns with 5G technology is its potential to interfere with aircraft equipment, particularly radio altimeters that operate on a similar frequency. Airlines have warned of significant operational challenges should the deadline fail to receive an extension as “a material number of aircraft” would not be ready in time.
Photo: NYC Russ / Shutterstock
However, telecommunications trade association CTIA, which represents 5G providers Verizon and AT&T, has dismissed calls by airlines for a deadline extension. The wireless industry has so far invested over $80 billion into to C-band 5G spectrum, including a massive $52.9 billion by Verizon.
“By requiring accountability, the FAA is taking important steps to ensure radio altimeter performance is more resilient while enabling timely C-Band 5G deployment.”
How much will it all cost?
As Simple Flying reported last month, the FAA said just $26 million is needed to cover 5G retrofits – however, IATA has claimed that the retrofits could end up costing airlines at least $637 million, far higher than the FAA’s estimate.
“The aviation industry, rather than the (Federal Communications Commission) or the telecommunications companies, is being told to pay to upgrade its certified radio altimeters. The unfairness of this cannot be overstated.”
IATA added that the FAA failed to include the costs of 6,000 planes already retrofitted and also omitted foreign registered planes from its estimate. The IAI added that the FAA proposal “does not address a realistic cost assessment of the research and development cost associated with the work done to date or the additional work that will be required, especially given the number of different aircraft models potentially affected.”
Do you think airlines should be granted an extension to retrofit their aircraft? Let us know your insights in the comments.