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5G wireless rollout limited because of safety concerns at certain airports

Temporary buffer zones includes those in Palm Beach County, Fort Lauderdale, Miami
Posted at 11:38 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 08:10:55-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — We've had 2G, 3G, 4G service, and now we have fifth-generation cellphone service with perks and benefits. But those advantages might causes problems with aircraft making low-visibility landing, the carriers say.

"The biggest thing to the average Joe is that you don't have that hesitation on your phone, computer, things come down quicker, movies, TV, whatever it may be it's just much, much quicker," said Alan Crowetz, president and CEO of Infostream Inc., a full-service computer and business consulting firm. He says the advance in technology also brings concerns that 5G signals could interfere with the cockpit technology

"You can't guess even if it's 99% sure it does not overlap. When it comes to a planeful of people you can't take a chance," he said.

Palm Beach International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport are among 50 nationwide where a 5G buffer zone is in place to help avoid any disruptions.

On Tuesday, AT&T and Verizon agreed to temporarily limit deployment of 5G C-band service around select airport runways ahead of its rollout Wednesday.

The nation's largest airlines and shipping carriers asked federal authorities for "immediate intervention" to block AT&T and Verizon from launching the network within 2 miles of airports.

"Despite the recent collaboration and data sharing between the telecommunications industry, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry, commercial aviation in the United States is facing major disruption of the traveling and shipping public based on our evaluation of the data and discussions that have been ongoing to resolve the issue of how best to deploy 5G 'C-band' in a safe manner around," the letter read.

President Joe Biden thanked the carriers for the pause.

"This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled," Biden said in a statement. "This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans."

Airlines claim the new 5G signals might confuse radar altimeters, which planes depend on to measure height off the ground.

American Airlines pilot Capt. Dennis Tajer said the danger is real.

"If you're going into an airport that is a 5G airport, we have a number of systems we have to check to give us a heads up," he said. "This might go weird. Don't forget about doing landing distances because speed breaks may not work, thrust reversers to help us slow down or what we call rejected takeoff may not work."

Cellphone companies insist 5G is not a threat to aviation.

"And we had to fight hard," Tajer said. "We got a basic buffer around certain airports now and we're studying that."

The question now is how long AT&T along with Verizon will agree not to turn on their 5G sites.

In November, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay deployment by 30 days until Jan. 5, and then agreed to delay deployment until Wednesday.