FAA names 50 airport buffer zones to counter potential 5G dangers

Jan 10, 2022

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The ongoing story of the AT&T and Verizon 5G rollout continues. Concerns over air safety have delayed the debut of the new technology, originally scheduled to launch in early December.

AT&T and Verizon now plan to turn on the 5G switch on Jan. 19, with a big caveat. Or 50 big caveats to be more precise. Both carriers will activate the service with buffer zones near 50 airports for six months in order to monitor potential flight disruptions. These buffer zones will restrict the 5G signals closest to the airports, protecting the last 20 seconds of flight.

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The rollout is a big deal for the two companies, and it’s been a source of some high-stakes maneuvers lately.

Last year, the carriers secured access to a portion of the C-band spectrum, which will allow them to up their 5G game as far as speed and coverage are concerned. The problem is that certain aircraft instrumentation can be subject to interference from the C-band spectrum. Namely, the radio altimeters used in low-visibility conditions. Those instruments operate on an adjacent spectrum.

Radio altimeters are an important tool for pilots during low-visibility landings. (Photo by Martin Von Castell/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The telecom giants have pointed to months of safe C-band operations in Europe, particularly in France, in an attempt to bolster their claim. But federal aviation officials remain skeptical, citing studies that show a very real prospect for aircraft interference. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to release flight restrictions to address 5G safety concerns as soon as this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Related: What you need to know about 5G interfering with aircraft

On Friday, the FAA identified the 50 airports that will include the 5G “buffer zones.” The list features some of the country’s busiest facilities, such as LAX and Chicago O’Hare. It also includes those known for low visibility, such as San Francisco International and Seattle/Tacoma International. The six-month delay will allow the feds to work with the airline and aerospace industries to ensure that operations can safely co-exist with 5G on the C-band spectrum.

Take a look at the list of airports from the FAA below.

Airports with 5G buffer zones. (Screenshot courtesy of the FAA)
Airports with 5G buffer zones. (Screenshot courtesy of the FAA)

For now, it’s a compromise that all sides can live with.

Featured image by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.


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