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C-band upgrades may cost airline industry $637M, IATA

The US requirements to retrofit airplane altimeters to avoid 5G wireless interferences could cost the industry $637m (£526m), according to the world’s biggest airline trade body.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said the costs to retrofit airplanes would far exceed the $26m (£21.5m) estimated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Reuters has reported.

The organisation, which represents more than 100 carriers that fly to the United States, said the figure would be closer to $637m (£526m).

The estimate is a response to the FAA’s proposal to require all passenger and cargo aircraft in the United States to have 5G C-Band-tolerant radio altimeters or approved filters by early 2024.

In the past, the FAA has warned that 5G technologies could affect sensitive aircraft instruments such as altimeters – which provide pilots with an accurate reading of the plane’s proximity to the ground, helping to minimise the risk of accidents or collisions – and thus having significant impact on flights in low-visibility atmospheric conditions.

The concerns led to disruptions at some US airports in January 2022 involving international carriers.

In June, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc voluntarily agreed to delay some C-Band 5G use until July 2023 to allow time for air carriers to retrofit airplanes to ensure they will not face interference.

The FAA estimated that the retrofit programme would cost the industry $26m (£21.5m). Of 7,993 airplanes covered by the directive, the FAA estimated that almost 7,000 airplanes “are already equipped or are being retrofitted”.

However, the industry body has now said many airlines will be unable to meet the deadline given to complete this process, citing chain issues, certification delays and “unavoidable logistical challenges”.

The IATA said: “One can expect flight disruptions post the March and July deadlines unless the FAA and the US government take a different approach to this interference issue”.

The IATA said the costs are higher per plane than the FAA estimated and said it should include the costs of 6,000 planes already retrofitted and the non-US registered planes that will be impacted.

“Operators around the world are being compelled to invest millions of dollars to retrofit their US-bound fleet while being reliant on the goodwill of companies that refused to accept that 5G C-band interference even existed in the first place,” the organisation added.

The FAA, Verizon and AT&T are now negotiating to reach a new agreement that seeks to extend some voluntary mitigations beyond July 1 2023. Reuters

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