Last year, American wireless carriers paused plans to launch higher-power 5G networks around U.S. airports amid concerns about interference with airplanes’ altimeters.

Now airlines aren’t expected to get any additional time to upgrade their planes’ equipment to avoid the interference, and instead they are facing a deadline of July 1, which is this Saturday. That’s when AT&T
and other wireless companies are slated to start running networks at higher power levels.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday warned of the potential for flight delays for some carriers
who haven’t taken action by the deadline.

Buttigieg said more than 80% of the domestic fleet serving U.S. airports has been retrofitted, but there is “a significant number of aircraft still awaiting retrofit, including many operated by foreign air carriers.”

“This means on bad-weather, low-visibility days in particular, there could be increased delays and cancellations,” the Transportation Department chief said.

Altimeters give a plane’s height and are used in particular on low-visibility days. Only aircraft with retrofitted altimeters will be able to perform low-visibility landings, Buttigieg said.

The Biden administration official’s warnings on Friday came in a letter that he wrote to Airlines for America, an industry group that lobbies for carriers.

“Passengers must not bear the brunt of any airline’s inability to equip sufficient aircraft to be able to operate safely in the 5G C-band environment,” Buttigieg wrote.

Related: Biden proposes cash compensation from airlines for flight cancellations or major delays


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