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Delta Air Lines: It's all good with 5GDelta Air Lines: It's all good with 5G

Delta Air Lines said 'there was no notable operational impact' following aircraft equipment updates designed to prevent possible 5G interference. The development may bring an end to the 5G interference debate.

Mike Dano

September 1, 2023

2 Min Read
(Source: frans lemmens/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: frans lemmens/Alamy Stock Photo)

Delta Air Lines said all of its aircraft have been updated with equipment to prevent possible interference from some 5G signals.

The company added that "there was no notable operational impact between July 1 and this week when the work was completed."

That's important considering some Biden administration officials had warned earlier this year that 5G signals could impact some summer travel. "There's a real risk of delays or cancellations," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned in June. "This represents one of the biggest – probably the biggest – foreseeable problem affecting performance this summer."

But that mostly didn't happen. As Light Reading previously reported, 5G operations in C-band spectrum did not appear to affect any flights in the US during the July 4 holiday weekend.

And Buttigieg told Reuters on July 20 that there were minimal disruptions from the issue.

At issue were fears by the airline industry that 5G transmissions in C-band spectrum might interfere with aircraft altimeters near some US airports. Such altimeters can be essential to safe aircraft landings in rain and other conditions that can affect visibility.

In late 2021, just before Verizon was scheduled to switch on its 5G network in its new C-band spectrum holdings, the US airlines industry conducted a major public relations campaign to stall that rollout. "Major disruptions to passenger air travel, commercial transport and critical helicopter operations can be expected from the rollout of 5G," a group of airline executives warned near the end of 2021.

After some very public debate on the topic, Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay their C-band 5G rollouts near some airports until July 1, 2023, to give the airline industry time to update some aircraft altimeters to ones that wouldn't be affected by 5G.

As that July 1 deadline approached, most airlines reported that they had updated most of their aircraft with altimeters designed to block out 5G transmissions in C-band spectrum. But Delta said that around 190 of its aircraft – roughly 21% of its fleet – wouldn't get new altimeters by July 1.

Now, roughly 60 days later, the company appears to have rectified that situation. "Delta has equipped all of its actively flying aircraft with 5G-compliant radio altimeters," the company announced. "This means no Delta aircraft will be subject to additional weather-driven constraints."

Broadly, the efforts by Delta appear to bring to a close around two years of struggle between the 5G industry and the airline industry over interference.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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