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Charlotte airport will get a '5G buffer zone' as wireless service rolls out

American Airlines has 90% of the flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
David Boraks

Two of North Carolina's busiest airports will have 5G buffer zones in place when wireless carriers roll out new 5G service Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is worried the new service could interfere with some aircraft equipment.

The main concern lies with aircraft altimeters, which measure a plane's altitude and are vital for pilots attempting to land in rainy, foggy or other low visibility conditions.

The FAA has raised concerns that radio signals from new 5G towers could interfere with those instruments. As a result, AT&T and Verizon have agreed to create buffer zones around 50 major airports around the U.S., including Charlotte Douglas and Raleigh-Durham International Airports.

The federal agency said it chose the airports based on airports' traffic volume, frequency of low-visibility days and geographic location.

The buffer zones will be in place for six months, during which the FAA will work with airlines to test how planes respond against the new 5G service. If they prove safe, the FAA may remove some restrictions.

Already, the FAA has warned pilots flying Boeing 787s to take additional precautions when landing on slick runways at airports where the new 5G service is deployed.

In a statement, the FAA said safety experts found 5G interference with the aircraft's altimeter could prevent engine and braking systems from transitioning to landing mode, which could prevent the planes from stopping on the runway.

Representatives with the Charlotte Douglas International Airport redirected all questions about buffer zones to the FAA and did not provide a statement.

The new 5G service will launch on Wednesday, Jan. 19. Wireless carriers say it will allow for faster internet speeds for mobile phones, and allow people to connect more devices to the internet at faster speeds.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal