FAA lists 50 airports getting temporary buffer zones blocking new 5G signals

To ensure aircraft instruments aren't disrupted, 50 US airports will have C-band 5G-free exclusion areas for six months.

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The Federal Aviation Administration has released a list of airports that will have temporary buffer zones around them that will ban new 5G coverage set to go live later in January for a period of six months. In that time, the agency and aviation industry will work to ensure current aircraft equipment won't be disrupted by the new frequencies carriers will use to expand their 5G networks. 

The list of airports includes some of the largest international hubs across the US, like John F. Kennedy International in New York City, Los Angeles International and Chicago's O'Hare International. They include areas where carriers plan to activate 5G coverage in the so-called C-band of frequencies on Jan. 19. Traffic volume, the number of low-visibility days and geographic location all factored into which airports would require buffer zones, according to an FAA newsroom post on Friday.

For six months after C-band goes live, wireless companies including AT&T and Verizon will switch off transmitters and make other adjustments to C-band 5G signal in the 3.7-3.98GHz frequencies around airports in these buffer zones. That will keep them from interfering with aviation equipment operating in the 4.2-4.4GHz frequencies.

That equipment includes radio altimeters, which provide accurate height readings to aircraft systems, including navigation and collision avoidance. The FAA and aviation industry have been concerned that C-band signal will interfere with readings that aircraft rely on when landing at airports during rough weather and low visibility.

In the six months that the buffer zones are active, the FAA will work with airlines and manufacturers to test altimeters operating amid C-band 5G signal and lift restrictions on aircraft using altimeters that are safe to fly in those environments. Those that aren't will be retrofitted or replaced, according to an FAA C-band FAQ page.

The temporary buffer zones encompass slightly more than a mile around landing runways that completely ban C-band 5G signal, providing planes with 20 seconds of signal-free time while they come in for landing. 

The wireless industry has a more specific outline for the zones, which will extend for 2,100 meters in front of and behind runways, as well as 910 meters on either side. Carriers will reduce C-band signal in a narrower 6,100-meter path ahead of and behind runways and limit signal power above the horizon, according to a document provided to CNET by the CTIA, a trade organization representing the wireless industry.

The buffer zones are another compromise made by US carriers to ensure their upcoming C-band service doesn't interfere with crucial aircraft instruments. Verizon and AT&T delayed their C-band launches in November and again January, as well as lowering broadcasted power levels nationwide. This is the first we're seeing of a timeline that satisfies both the wireless and aviation industries and agencies, which have been working on a solution to the issue since the FCC auctioned off the C-band frequencies to US carriers in February 2020. 

The full list of airports that will have buffer zones for six months after Jan. 19 are as follows:

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas
  • Laurence G. Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts
  • King County International Airport in Seattle, Washington
  • Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California
  • Akron-Canton Airport in Canton, Ohio
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlott, North Carolina
  • Dallas Love Field in Dallas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit
  • Ellington Airport in Houston
  • Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey
  • Fresno Yosemite International Airport in Fresno, California
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdal, Florida
  • Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan
  • William P. Hobby Airport in Houston
  • Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport in New Haven, Connecticut
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston
  • Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis
  • Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkom, New York
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City
  • Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles
  • LaGuardia Airport in New York City
  • Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, California
  • Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City
  • Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida
  • Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Pennsylvania
  • Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago
  • McAllen International Airport in McAllen, Texas
  • Miami International Airport in Miami
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in Minnesota
  • Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California
  • O'Hare International Airport in Chicago
  • Paine Field in Snohomish County, Washington
  • Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix
  • St. PeteClearwater International Airport  in Clearwate, Florida
  • Pittsburgh International Airport in Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisvill, North Carolina
  • Frederick Douglass - Greater Rochester International Airport in Rocheste, New York
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle
  • San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California
  • John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracus, New York
  • Teterboro Airport in Teterbor, New Jersey