The controversy about the rollouts of 5G data networks near airports reached a national fervor on Tuesday, when airlines warned the government – and the telecom companies – that air service could be affected in major ways if those higher-speed networks were to be implemented.

Both AT&T and Verizon, whose networks would roll out more broadly across the nation, expanding the data capabilities and speed for users, announced another delay of the broader network.

Airlines say the signals near airports are unsafe to the navigation of their airliners, which could cause them to delay both passenger and commercial flights.

The airlines want a buffer space to be in place within two miles of airport runways, a concept employed in other countries, they say.

An aerial view of the airport construction at Piedmont Triad International Airport. (Photo by PTIA)

In Greensboro, 5G networks already are deployed, but there has been little public discussion about how this issue might affect the busy service at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker did not respond to questions about the situation here, and spokesperson Shannon Allen referred questions to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Emails to local contacts for the FAA drew no response as well, as the debate continued to appear focused on busier airports with more flights than PTI handles daily.

Verizon in 2019 had launched its 5G network in parts of the Greensboro area. AT&T has 5G service available in parts of Charlotte and Raleigh.

Just last week the FAA identified 50 U.S. airports it said would have those buffer zones. Among them were Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport – but not PTI.

The list of airports was created based on traffic volume, the number of low-visibility weather days and natural geography. These buffer zones will protect the last 20 seconds of a flight, the FAA said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA chief Stephen Dickson had asked AT&T and Verizon to delay the 5G rollout, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

Verizon was the first to announce its new plan on Tuesday and blamed airlines and the FAA, whom officials said “have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports” although it is working in more than 40 countries.

CEOs of the largest airlines said interference with aircraft systems would be worse than they originally thought.

 “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” unless the service is blocked near major airports, the CEOs said in a letter Monday to federal officials.

5G stands for the fifth generation of cellular network technology. The first was voice calls, followed by text messaging, mobile apps and then an increase in speed.

5G affects airplanes because they employ radio waves to measure altitude. The FAA had said 5G could affect 17 automated systems that rely on data from the altimeter. The Federal Communications Commission has disagreed with that perspective.