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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Can the Airlines 5G Saga Be Done Now?

Are we done now?

Is America’s long national 5G nightmare finally over?

Can the aviation industry now concentrate on more truly pressing matters?

Is it possible we can board a flight and get back to guessing which fellow passenger is psychotic enough to take a swing at a flight attendant, instead of wondering whether the plane is going to fall into the ocean because little Johnny is playing Roblox or Minecraft with a wireless connection?

My goodness. Never has there been more ‘much ado about nothing’ than this drawn-out battle between the airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the White House on one side, and the telecommunications companies and the Federal Communications Commission on the other.

To recap (and a short recap so as not to belabor the point): telecom giants AT&T and Verizon were poised for a nationwide rollout of what is known as 5G-C wireless service. Airlines objected, saying flights would be in Jack Nicholson grave danger – I’m paraphrasing, of course – because 5G would interfere with airplane instrumentation. Like having your cell phone on during flight will mess with the cockpit, wink-wink.

AT&T and Verizon relented and gave in to requests for delays three times before agreeing this week that they would not place the service near airports.

The concern is understandable, and commendable, and I don’t mean to be glib about it. But the airlines; its lobby group Airlines for America; the FAA; airplane manufacturers; and regular Joes who read the papers and websites were throwing around words like ‘dire’ and ‘doomsday’ and ‘catastrophic’ if the telecom companies went ahead and implemented this service near airports.

Frankly, it seemed a little excessive.

“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, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” AT&T spokesperson Megan Ketterer told CNN in the aftermath of the agreement.

Again, it’s understandable – sort of – that the airlines want to avoid costly flight disruptions that lead to delays and cancellations. After all, the last thing we need is the airlines strong-arming the government into another bailout with the veiled threat that the entire industry was going to collapse because of the pandemic two years ago.

Delays are cancellations do no one any good.

But the airlines say the 5G problem isn’t quite over until they can come to a final agreement, not another delay, with AT&T and Verizon.

I’m just not so sure what that final agreement would look like since this sounds like an ‘all or nothing’ venture on both sides.

Here’s a good example. A couple of years ago I went to this massive flea market held just a couple of times a year near my house in suburban New York. I was looking for some fun things to decorate my home office. I found an old-fashioned black rotary phone, an old globe, and a vintage 1919 typewriter.

I love them. They look so cool on top of my bookcase. The phone still works when plugged into a jack. The globe still spins. The typewriter even types.

But if I want to connect to a company and need to punch a button for automated responses, if I want a look at the new world order of countries, if I want to type out a long story without using whiteout on mistakes, they are all just what they look like on my bookcase.


It’s called progress. Instead of aviation impeding it, perhaps airlines and airplane manufactures would do better to keep up with it.


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