As AT&T and Verizon prepare to roll out their new mid-range 5G spectrum this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a list of 50 U.S. airports where faster 5G coverage won’t happen, at least. not immediately.
After several weeks of delay as carriers and the aviation industry squabbled over potential safety concerns, it looks like AT&T and Verizon are finally on track to begin rollout of the new mid-band spectrum on January 19. Although AT&T has yet to outline its specific plans for the new spectrum, Verizon has pledged to use it to expand its 5G Ultra Wideband network to more than 100 million new customers across the United States.
Faced with concerns that the new frequencies could interfere with important aviation instruments such as radar altimeters, the two carriers agreed to delay the rollout of the new C-band spectrum until early 2022, while also offering power limits that would lower signal strength near airports.
When that proved insufficient to allay the fears of aviation industry officials, the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon went further, promising to create temporary “no-go zones” around U.S. airports where the news 5G frequencies would not be deployed at all during the initial deployment.
In a joint letter last week, the two CEOs then said those precautions should be more than enough, and stressed that they would no longer accept requests to delay their deployments beyond January 5. However, after a day of intensive talks with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA last Monday, both relented and agreed to a final two-week extension, with deployment now scheduled to begin on January 19.
Where are the exclusion zones?
Now, the FAA has selected 50 specific airports where mid-range 5G spectrum will not be deployed. the published list includes major hubs for U.S. airlines such as Chicago’s O’Hare International, as well as smaller regional airports that are prone to heavy fog and clouds, such as Paine Field in Snohomish County, Washington, and Tweed New Haven Regional Airport in Connecticut.
The exclusion zone list also includes all of the major US international airports in places like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Seattle and beyond.
According to the Wall Street newspaper, the agency selected airports based on traffic volumes, locations and the number of days of low visibility. The new C-band spectrum presents the greatest risk of interference with radar altimeters, which are most critical for low visibility landings.
FAA officials stressed that the exclusion list does not necessarily mean low visibility flights cannot take place at other airports, although many airports do not have the necessary equipment to handle the flights. low visibility landings.
According to Reuters, the list released by the FAA omits several major airports in places like Denver and Atlanta, as well as Ronald Reagan Washington National, simply because 5G deployments are not an issue in those places. Either they are in areas where 5G is not yet deployed, or the waterways are already “far enough away for a natural buffer to exist”.
As it is, the exclusion zones will only be in effect for a period of six months, so AT&T and Verizon can still roll out the new 5G hardware in those zones, and simply not turn it on when going. initial deployment.
Aviation industry officials remain skeptical
Despite the agreement to move forward with the deployment of mid-range 5G, the FAA continues to warn of possible flight disruptions, telling Reuters that “even with the temporary buffer of around 50 airports , the deployment of 5G will increase the risk of disruption in low visibility. ” including “flight cancellations, hijacked flights and delays during periods of low visibility”.
Nonetheless, the FAA is committed to working with aerospace manufacturers and airlines over the next six months to test and validate avionics. The agency notes on its website that “as tests prove certain altimeters are safe, the FAA will be able to remove some restrictions on aircraft operations with these altimeters.” He adds that “the risk of disruption will gradually decrease as more altimeters are tested and found to be safe, upgraded or replaced.”
In a statement to Reuters, Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America, an association that represents US and Canadian airports, said the FAA list “largely irrelevant”, warning that ” the entire aviation system is on the verge of being compromised. impacted by this poorly planned and coordinated expansion of 5G service in and around airports. Burke believes “the entire aviation system will suffer under the terms of this deal.”
Airlines for America, the trade group that represents American Airlines, FedEx and several other carriers, was a bit more optimistic, however, with a spokesperson saying the group appreciated “the FAA’s efforts to implement mitigation measures for airports that could be most affected by the disruption. generated by the deployment of the new 5G service.
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- FAA forced 5G deployment delay despite lack of evidence of damage to aviation