Charlotte among 50 airports getting ‘buffer zone’ to block rollout of new 5G signals

The FAA, working with the aviation community and wireless companies, established buffer zones around 50 airports with wireless transmitters in close proximity to the runways.
The FAA, working with the aviation community and wireless companies, established buffer zones around 50 airports.
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 1:13 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte Douglas International Airport is among 50 different airports nationwide getting a buffer zone to block the rollout of new 5G signals this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), working with the aviation community and wireless companies, established buffer zones around 50 airports with wireless transmitters in close proximity to the runways.

The temporary buffer zones will block new 5G coverage for six months.

The Federal Aviation Administration released the list of 50 airports that will have buffer zones when wireless companies turn on new 5G C-band service on Jan. 19.

“Yes, I think something should be done as far as the 5G. If it’s affecting any type of flights, anything dealing with people flying, then I agree with it being down,” one neighbor near Charlotte Douglas International Airport said.

The agency says they sought input from the aviation community where the proposed buffer zones would help reduce the risk of disruption. Traffic volume, the number of low-visibility days and geographic location factored into the selection.

The cell phone companies have voluntarily delayed deploying 5G near those airports for six months to minimize potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft instruments used in low-visibility landings.

The FAA says telecommunications carriers have offered to voluntarily delay 5G deployment and to restrict their own antenna operations in areas close to key airports where interference could lead to significant disruptions.

The FAA also continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible.

According to the Associated Press, AT&T and Verizon plan to activate their new 5G wireless service Wednesday after two previous delays from the original plan for an early December rollout.

The CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest say that 5G will be more disruptive than they originally thought because dozens of large airports that were to have buffer zones to prevent 5G interference with aircraft will still be subject to flight restrictions announced last week by the Federal Aviation Administration.

They add that those restrictions won’t be limited to times when visibility is poor.

“The FAA lists 17 systems it could be affected and it says the pilot may not be able to catch those errors in time to maintain safe flight and landing,” Captain Dennis Tajer with Allied Pilots Association said.

On Tuesday, each wireless carrier agreed to delay the 5G debut.

“We have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” AT&T said in part.

“We have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports. The FAA and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” Verizon said in part.

One travel expert we spoke with worries the parties won’t come to a resolution and that could mean bad news for passengers.

“Over the Christmas and New Year period we saw tens of thousands of cancellations because of bad weather, Omicron, you know, really popular travel period – and to add insult to injury if we see this issue not able to be resolved and the 5G towers come on, seeing even more flights get cancelled and people’s travel plans get disrupted—that’s my worst case scenario,” Founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights Scott Keyes said.

WBTV reached out to the FAA and was told the buffer zones are up at Charlotte Douglas. The FAA provided this statement to WBTV:

“The FAA issued new approvals Thursday that allow an estimated 78 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band. This now includes some regional jets. Airplane models with one of the 13 cleared altimeters include all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, MD-10/-11; all Airbus A300, A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, A350 and A380 models; and some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets. The FAA is working diligently to determine which remaining altimeters are reliable and accurate where 5G is deployed in the United States. We anticipate some altimeters will be too susceptible to 5G interference. To preserve safety, aircraft with those altimeters will be prohibited from performing low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed because the altimeter could provide inaccurate information. Passengers should check with their airlines for latest flight schedules.”

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