As the aviation industry continues to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, US Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) have sent a joint letter to both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in hopes of obtaining more details on airlines potentially not meeting deadlines for airplane 5G retrofit. The International Air Transport Association‘s (IATA) Director General Alexandre de Juniac expressed his concern that many operators would not make the proposed July 2023 or March 2024 deadline due to supply chain and certification issues. This frustration has been further compounded by passenger numbers that remain far lower than expected. In an effort to help address these issues, the FAA earlier this year proposed a requirement that all passenger and cargo aircraft in the US be retrofitted with 5G altimeters or filters by early 2024. The FAA also proposed requiring airlines revise flight manuals prohibiting low visibility landings after June 30 unless retrofits have been completed. To facilitate this process, both Verizon and AT&T have agreed to delay 5G usage until July 1 while airlines work on their own retrofitting requirements.
Despite these efforts, some US senators remain concerned that “serious operational disruptions” could occur if necessary steps are not taken prior to the set deadlines. The Senate is urging both the FAA and Secretary Buttigieg to provide more clarity regarding what requirements are needed for airplanes operating within US airspace, along with how they plan on monitoring compliance of air carriers with their respective deadlines. Specific information was requested concerning what assistance may be given by agencies such as Boeing, Airbus, pilots and other firms involved in the effort. At present it appears that many airline companies continue making progress towards meeting their respective timelines but will need additional support from government entities in order to do so effectively. This news comes at an important time as airline industry leaders are trying to minimize risk factors associated with airborne technology in an already turbulent pandemic era. It remains uncertain whether airlines will meet the deadlines set by FAA, however it is clear that any changes must ensure safety and security of those flying in US airspace moving forward.
It is still too early to determine what the long-term impact of these proposed deadlines will have on the aviation industry. However, as airlines continue to make retrofitting plans, lawmakers are hoping that more guidance and support can be provided in order to ensure safe operation of aircraft within US airspace. With both the FAA and Transportation Secretary keenly aware of the procedure, airline companies and passengers alike will be paying close attention to how this situation develops in the coming weeks.