Major wireless networks partially agree to delay 5G around airports

DTW is one of 50 airports that will have buffer zones

Wireless networks like Verizon and AT&T will partially delay launching their new wireless service near essential airports after airlines say that the service would cause interference with aircraft technology.

DETROIT – Following an eleventh-hour plea from the airline industry that warned of a catastrophic aviation crisis, Verizon and AT&T are delaying Wednesday’s 5G rollout near certain airports.

The temporary holdup is to address the overlapping of air-safety distress frequencies that may interfere with pilots.

“Here’s the problem, the problem is that the radar altimeter that bounces a signal off the ground, they operate on near the same frequency as 5G,” said Dennis Glaeser, an Aerospace Engineer and Certified Flight Instructor. “And so, at the outer edge of these frequencies, there’s an overlap.”

And then, there is interference with the signal; the concern is that the pilot could get a false indication of the plane’s proximity to the ground when landing.

“It’s like getting interference on your AM radio when you’re driving past those power lines,” Glaeser said. “The 5G could give you bad readings.”

Experts say the vast majority of the time that pilots don’t rely on radar altimeters. But they are critical when a commercial pilot is landing in bad weather with low visibility.

“So, if you’re landing in poor conditions and you’re depending on your radar altimeter, and there happens to be 5G nearby, and there’s interference, that could cause a problem,” Glaeser said.

This is an issue unique to U.S. airspace.

In 2019, the European Union set standards for mid-range 5G frequencies which is lower than the service set to be rolled out in the U.S.

DTW is one of the 50 airports that will have buffer zones when wireless companies implement the new 5G C-band service this month.

Over the next six months, the Airport Authority looks forward to receiving additional information from the FAA regarding the effectiveness of these buffer zones to mitigate potential impacts of 5G interference and guidance regarding the next steps when the mitigation measures expire.

About the Authors:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.