Shaheen, Hassan Call for More Communication from FAA on 5G Rollout Impact at MHT

Feb. 8, 2022

Feb. 7—U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are calling for improved, and earlier, communication between the Federal Aviation Administration and officials at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on possible local impacts from the rollout of 5G phone service.

AT&T and Verizon Communications announced last month an agreement to temporarily defer turning on some wireless towers near key airports to avert a significant disruption to U.S. flights.

In a memo to city aldermen, Airport Director Ted Kitchens said he and staff at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) are preparing for possible delays in or out of the airport because of a 5G transmitter in Massachusetts that affects southern New Hampshire.

"The situation as it stands right now is that our low-visibility approaches to Runway 35 will be impacted by the 5G rollout and have been deemed 'not available' by the FAA through what is called a Notice to Airmen," Kitchens wrote.

The Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) has warned that 5G wireless interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments like radio altimeters and hamper low-visibility operations.

Shaheen and Hassan have sent a letter to FAA chief Steve Dickson calling on the agency to be "transparent, quick, and informative" when communicating concerns with local officials, after learning from MHT leadership that they didn't hear from the FAA about the approach restrictions until after the restrictions were put into place.

"According to MHT officials, there was no proactive communication concerning the restrictions by FAA to the airport, and it was only due to the diligence of MHT employees that MHT learned of the restrictions when it did," write Shaheen and Hassan.

Hassan and Shaheen write that MHT is an "important contributor to New Hampshire's economy," serving as a critical link in the supply chain for Northern New England and Massachusetts with over 200 million pounds of cargo moving through the airport annually.

"It also had the potential to serve as a secondary servicing site for aircraft diverted from other airports in the region that are currently on the initial FAA Commercial Airports with Low-Visibility Approaches in 5G Deployment list," write Shaheen and Hassan. "This makes it even more concerning that the FAA has not had robust communication with MHT about restrictions."

While MHT falls outside areas identified by the telecommunications industry for the initial rollout of 5G, Kitchens writes in his memo, a transmitter in Massachusetts "bleeds over" into the southern half of the state.

"This approach is the preferred approach during winter, as the wind generally favors an approach to Runway 35" because of winds coming out of the north, Kitchens said. "Should we get another round of winter weather, this may cause some flights to be cancelled at the departure airport or delayed until weather here at MHT improves.

"It is important to note that 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," Kitchens said.

In their letter, Shaheen and Hassan say it's "absolutely vital" that all guidance and information shared by the FAA with local aviation authorities and the public "be prompt, comprehensive, and clear."

"As the FAA continues to ensure that aircraft can continue to operate safely, we strongly urge FAA leadership to evaluate the processes by which information is communicated to FAA personnel on the ground, who have existing and strong relationships with the regions that they serve," the letter says. "The FAA must also evaluate and strengthen how it communicates to airport operators, local and state transportation officials, air carriers, and other affected parties."

Last Thursday lawmakers sharply criticized the process leading up to the deployment of 5G wireless technology near airports in January, questioning how the FAA and Federal Communications Commission could operate with such disconnect.

"There's no excuse for us to be in this situation," Rep. Garret Graves, R- La., said during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. "It's embarrassing. It's ridiculous and inexcusable."

Committee Chair Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore., pointed out an "extraordinary lack of communication and coordination between the FCC and the FAA" leading up to the deployment of 5G near airports.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at [email protected]


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