Butler County airports won’t be impacted by national 5G technology issue

The Butler County Regional Airport and Hook Field in Middletown will not be impacted by the rollout of new 5G wireless services like some major airports could be. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

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The Butler County Regional Airport and Hook Field in Middletown will not be impacted by the rollout of new 5G wireless services like some major airports could be. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Airlines across the nation have expressed concern with the rollout of new 5G service by Verizon and AT&T, saying it could interfere with a key instrument on airplanes. Locally, the Butler County airport leaders say they are safe from any issues with it.

The companies were set to deploy the new technology today, Jan. 19 but have agreed to suspend activation near some major airports because of concerns. CEOs of the nation’s largest airlines say that interference could be worse than they originally thought.

The new high-speed 5G service uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by altimeters, which are devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground.

Butler County Development Director David Fehr, who is in charge of the Butler County Regional Airport said the new technology rollout won’t disrupt flight operations here.

“Aircraft coming to Butler County would utilize Global Position Systems for navigation as we are a general aviation airport and do not have a flight control tower,” Fehr said. “The 5G controversy involves radio altimeters which are utilized by larger commercial aircraft at the bigger U.S. airports.”

He said they have about 60,000 “operations” at the airport annually, which is how many planes take off and land. Smaller aircraft and corporate jets utilize Hogan Field and Hook Field, which is owned by the City of Middletown, where they have on average about 34,000 operations per year. Matt Eisenbraun, assistant Economic Development director, said they are not expecting problems either.

“I don’t think we have the type of planes coming in that are going to experience the interference they are talking about,” Eisenbraun said. “And I don’t know the location of any towers with regards to how our approaches are set out there.”

The Federal Communications Commission, which runs the auctions of radio spectrum, determined that C-Band strand of 5G could be used safely in the vicinity of air traffic. The FCC in 2020 set a buffer between the 5G band and the spectrum that planes use to resolve any safety concerns.

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Stephen Dickson, administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, whose agency is responsible for aviation safety, saw a potential problem and last Friday asked AT&T and Verizon to hold off activating C-Band 5G near an undetermined number of “priority airports” for two weeks while the FAA conducted further study.

The Cincinnati Airport could be impacted but Mindy Kershner, senior manager of Communications & Community Affairs said they don’t know for certain yet.

“CVG is actively working with the FAA and our air carrier partners on potential impacts to operations related to 5G implementation, which is scheduled for tomorrow, January 19,” she told the Journal-News. “Specific impacts at CVG, if any, cannot be determined at this time.”

While the FAA survey is underway, the federal agency will allow planes with accurate, reliable altimeters to operate around high-power 5G. But planes with older altimeters will not be allowed to make landings under low-visibility conditions.

The cell phone service giants agreed to the brief delay in certain locations — after two previous delays from the original plan for an early December rollout — but AT&T isn’t pleased, according to Megan Ketterer, director of Communications & PR for corporate communications.

“At our sole discretion we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” Ketterer said.

“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services. We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

The Journal-News reached out to both companies but Verizon did not respond.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser is a pilot who has had some scary moments in the skies when his equipment malfunctioned “it’s like like flying in a cocoon.”

“It would scare the hell out of me if all of a sudden my instruments were talking different than what I’m seeing,” Gmoser said. “So obviously the FAA is concerned about this technological human factor that could invade a very sophisticated electronic system of navigation. It’s all dealing with these frequencies that are coming out of 5G. And what’s the next one going to be we’ve got 5G what’s going to be 6, 7, 8 or 9G, what’s coming in the future.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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