Why Airline CEOs Suddenly Walked Back Their 5G Concern

It hasn’t been long since national news headlines were focused on how major airlines were warning that the 5G rollout by wireless carriers would cause massive flight disruptions and potentially dangerous technical issues with airplane altimeters. But then … the uproar died down. In this episode of “Motley Fool’s Metal and Power Half-Hour” on Motley Fool Live, recorded on Jan. 25, Fool.com contributor John Bromels talks about how the crisis ended as quickly as it arrived.

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John Bromels: A group of airlines CEOs, including the CEOs of pretty much most major passenger airline corporations in the United States, has just sent a letter to the FAA, the FCC, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, among others, saying that they were not ready for the 5G rollout, which at the time was scheduled to have happened a week ago tomorrow, so last Wednesday. basically, AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) were preparing to roll out their 5G networks. They had made some concessions to airlines by not rolling it out within a certain radius of certain airports, but these airline CEOs said that wasn’t enough and that this would cause major, major disruptions because of the potential for the 5G technology to impact flight altimeters, the device on the plane that tells the plane how high it is. Well, the 5G rollout was at the time, as I said, scheduled that you go into effect very shortly thereafter, less than 48 hours later, and as you can imagine, it was chaos. 747s doing loop the loops in the sky. There was craziness, passengers freaking out. I’m just kidding, actually. What really happened was AT&T and Verizon said, “OK, we’re going to back down. We’re going to delay the rollout of 5G again.” They had already agreed to a delay, they now were agreeing to another delay of the rollout of 5G. After they made this announcement — I believe they had finally settled on another two-weeks delay — the airline CEOs said, “Nothing to worry about, nothing to see here. Forget what we said,” because all of a sudden a lot of people, industry watchers, travelers, were starting to get really concerned. They said, “Wait a minute, when 5G does roll out, whenever that happens, do we need to worry about airplanes falling out of the sky because their altimeters don’t work? This is really concerning.” It was actually very interesting to see the notes from the various airline CEOs, saying, “No, this is actually nothing to worry about.” When asked the question, “Well, if it was nothing to worry about, why did you warn of these catastrophic consequences in this letter you just wrote?” The airlines threaded the needle very nicely. They said, “Well, we were worried that there wouldn’t be time to implement the fixes that would need to be implemented, but now with this additional delay, we have plenty of time to implement fixes and there is going to be no catastrophic consequences for the airline industry.” It seems to have been something of a tempest in a teapot. We now are on track. AT&T and Verizon have said, “Fine, we won’t deploy 5G technology anywhere near any airports in this radius for now, for the foreseeable future.” The airlines CEOs have said, “OK, great, no problem,” and we’re back to where we were. But it’s very interesting because it really did seem like, when you’re warning about catastrophic consequences, if this gets rolled out and then you say, “Oh, two weeks? That’s fine. That’s plenty of time. No big deal.” You have to wonder, were you making a big deal out of it? Were you making too big a deal out of it to begin with or are you downplaying it now? But that’s where we are. That’s my update on the altimeter 5G crisis of 2022.

John Bromels owns Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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