Manchester airport says 5G rollout will prevent some landings

  • Landings from the south during low visibility at the longest runway at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport have been halted due to concerns about interference with instruments by a 5G transmitter in Massachusetts. FAACourtesy

  • A Southwest airliner sits at a gate at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Thursday, May 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/19/2022 3:17:50 PM
Modified: 1/19/2022 3:16:45 PM

Some landings at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport may not be allowed due to concerns about interference from the new 5G cellular network, possibly delaying flights, but details are uncertain, according to a memo from the airport’s director.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and it is very possible that what I communicate now will change by the time you read this email,” says the memo sent Tuesday to Manchester officials by Ted Kitchens, the airport’s director.

The memo, first reported by the Union-Leader, says that a 5G tower in Massachusetts could affect some instrument landings in low-visibility conditions coming from the south using Runway 35, which is oriented almost directly north-south. Such approaches have been deemed “not available” by the Federal Aviation Administrator through Notices to Airmen, or NOTAM, the method used by the FAA to alert pilots to changing conditions.

“This approach is the preferred approach during winter as the wind generally favors an approach to Runway 35 (i.e. winds from the north); should we get another round of winter weather, this may cause some flights to be canceled,” Kitchens wrote. “Airlines will still have the ability to safely make instrument approaches into the airport; however, lower visibility approaches will be suspended until the full impacts of 5G implementation are better understood.”

AT&T and Verizon are scheduled to turn on their 5G towers today, Jan. 19.

The concern is that some 5G transmission could interfere with radio altimeters that let pilots know precisely how far above the ground they are in low altitude flight, such as when approaching the runway during a landing. The has led the FAA to put a “buffer” around 50 airports where 5G cannot be deployed, but Manchester is not among those airports.

Kitchens’ memo notes that the situation is complicated by technology and marketing. Only those types of 5G that use the portion of the transmission spectrum known as the C-band are a concern and they appear to be limited to Verizon and AT&T. “There is also confusion around 5G since T-Mobile and other carriers advertise they have 5G” but not in C-band, Kitchens wrote. Interference also depends on the amount of power sent to the transmitter and even its angle of projection.

Although cellular networks have been talking about a rollout of 5G for years, concern about airline interference has only become public in recent weeks.

The Airports Council International says in a statement that “the aviation community has been monitoring the development and deployment of 5G for years.  … The U.S. Government had multiple opportunities over several years to work out reasonable plans for 5G operations. Instead, it chose to ignore repeated credible warnings from the aviation industry about the detrimental impacts these operations would have.”

Wireless carriers, on the other hand, say that it is airlines and airports that ignored the issue until the last minute.

The system of 5G, short for fifth generation, should greatly increase the amount of information that can be sent over the air to mobile units and cell phones.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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