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Airport Neighborhoods to See Delayed 5G Service Pending Safety Tests

A delayed rollout of new 5G cellular service from AT&T and Verizon hasn’t caused disruptions at Connecticut’s two airports with commercial passenger flights, according to airport officials, despite fears the new signals could affect airplane equipment crucial to landing in bad conditions.

The two major cell carriers activated most of their 5G C-band towers for the first time on Wednesday morning, but delayed the deployment of towers around several airports to avoid potentially disrupting flights. 

Representatives of both Tweed New Haven Airport and the Connecticut Airport Authority – which manages Bradley International Airport and five general aviation airports including Groton-New London – told CT Examiner they had not had any flights canceled or delayed on Wednesday.

In a written statement, the Connecticut Airport Authority said that, while there have not been any impacts yet, the rollout of the 5G C-Band networks could lead to increased cancellations, delays and diversions at both Bradley and the general aviation airports, especially during bad weather where pilots have poor visibility.

“As we continue to seek further guidance from the [Federal Aviation Administration], we strongly advise passengers to check with their airlines on their flight’s status before heading to the airport,” the statement said.

Sean Scanlon, the executive director of Tweed New Haven Airport, said over the phone that it’s not clear what impacts the rollout of 5G would have on operations at Tweed airport. While he said there aren’t any expected impacts to service at Tweed at this point, they are “a little concerned,” and are continuing to monitor the situation.

Scanlon said that airlines have told him they’re concerned about the impact 5G signals could have on crucial equipment in their planes, while cell phone providers have said they have rolled out this signal in dozens of other countries without impacts on planes.

“The air carriers are really freaked out about this,” Scanlon said. “They were in Washington, D.C. yesterday to talk about this, and they generally don’t do things together because they are fiercely competitive – so it’s important that we listen to them.”

Tweed is one of 50 airports around the U.S. where wireless carriers have put in buffer zones – agreeing to wait another 6 months to turn on 5G towers near those airports. Scanlon said he’s happy they have that buffer zone, and hopeful that it will limit any impacts to planes coming in and out of Tweed.

In a statement, Verizon said it voluntarily delayed rolling out its new network around airports, and criticized the FAA for failing to “fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”

Officials at the FAA said one of the major differences between the U.S. and France – where 5G was rolled out without disruption to aircraft – is that France has put in permanent buffer zones 96 seconds of flight time away from each of its airports. In the U.S., there is a smaller buffer zone around only 50 airports, and the buffer zones will expire in 6 months. The power of 5G in the U.S. is also much stronger than in France, according to the FAA.

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

Scanlon said the FAA didn’t tell them why Tweed was granted a buffer zone, and Bradley was not – but he speculated that it might be because Tweed is in a more heavily populated area with more cell phone traffic that could disrupt planes.

The FAA said in a news release that it considered traffic volume, the number of low-visibility days, geographic location and input from the “aviation community” to determine where buffer zones would limit the risk that 5G signals would disrupt planes. 

FAA representatives reached by CT Examiner did not elaborate on the specific conditions at Tweed and Bradley.

The 5G signals are a similar frequency to that used by radio altimeters – a device that shows how high an aircraft is above ground. Officials at the FAA said the 5G signals “may” interfere with some altimeters, and could make landing a plane difficult, especially during bad weather or low visibility. Those issues could lead to more flights being delayed or canceled due to weather conditions, according to the FAA.

AT&T and Verizon agreed on Jan. 3 to delay their deployment of their 5G “C-Band” service by two weeks, which the FAA said gave it time to review commercial planes and widely-used altimeter models to make sure they could land with low visibility at airports with 5G interference. 

By Wednesday, the FAA had cleared about 62 percent of commercial planes in the U.S., and five altimeter models for landing in low-visibility conditions at airports near 5G towers. The FAA would not tell CT Examiner which runways were not opened.

Those actions were expected to reduce the worst cancellations and delays, a statement from the FAA said – but officials still anticipated some impacts because other altimeters could be disrupted.

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