Upcoming 5G deadline could cause more airline delays starting July 1

CHARLOTTE — Wednesday was another turbulent day at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

There were residual impacts due to severe weather earlier this week then a runway was closed Wednesday mornings for hours after a Delta flight made an emergency landing.

“We had the lovely time of thoroughly getting to know the Salt Lake airport because we had a six-to-seven-hour delay, which eventually got canceled,” said Troy Smothers, an airline passenger.

It’s an adventure Smothers took in stride.

“They said we can get you to Charlotte -- Charlotte to Charleston. Close enough,” he told Channel 9 Wednesday night.

Delays and cancellations caused by storms and eventually misplaced flight crews have become a common occurrence for domestic air travel.

“We have a system that is so tightly put together that any disruption anywhere causes a ripple effect across the country,” said Capt. John Nance, a retired airline captain and now aviation analyst for ABC News.

5G compliance

He said another potential hiccup is on the horizon.

“There has been a lot of work done to try to see whether or not mode C, which is 5G for cellphones, has any potential for interfering with the radio altimeters on modern jets,” Nance said.

Radio altimeters are crucial when landing during bad weather or low visibility.

“The deadline on July 1 is when all aircraft, turbo-jet aircraft using certain types of radio altimeters telling you the exact distance between you and the ground, were supposed to be equipped with filters to prevent any possibility of interference,” Nance said.

That deadline prompted U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to send the airlines a letter on Friday that warned: “On July 1, wireless carriers will begin operating their networks at higher power levels … while 80% of planes have had their radio altimeters prepped for 5G.”

Buttigieg also said, “We continue to see a significant number of aircraft still awaiting retrofit, including many operated by foreign carriers.”

“If it’s down to minimums, you may not be able to use that airplane on that route, and that means rerouting pilots, rerouting airplanes, and that can get a little sticky,” Nance said.

Buttigieg is urging the airlines to act now to adjust schedules proactively and communicate clearly with passengers who could be affected by flight cancellations.

“There have been not only a lot of tests going on, but filtration systems put on the airplanes”

VIDEO: Passenger on flight before emergency landing at CLT: ‘Just a scary situation’

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