Communications, Navigation & Surveillance (CNS)

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NBAA Joins Large Coalition to Protect GPS in Wake of Recent FCC Decision

May 16, 2011

NBAA has joined a large coalition concerned that a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), intended to expand access to broadband communications, could lead to widespread interference with the Global Positioning System (GPS), causing massive disruption for aviation, other industries and everyday citizens.

In January, the FCC granted LightSquared, a wireless broadband company, a conditional waiver to build 40,000 ground stations that will operate in spectrum immediately adjacent to that used by GPS. Because the transmissions from these ground stations will be many times more powerful than those from GPS satellites, members of the Coalition to Save Our GPS – as well as the Departments of Defense and Transportation – are concerned they will drown out GPS signals, creating thousands of large dead spots across the country.

Threat to Precision Approaches, NextGen

NBAA last week joined other aviation organizations that are members of the coalition in urging Congress to require that the FCC “take all steps necessary to protect the GPS” as it considers the LightSquared plan. “Thousands of aircraft use GPS receivers for navigation, including approach and landing, and it is central to the FAA’s ADS-B-based Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen),” the organizations wrote in a letter to members of key congressional committees.

General aviation (GA) has been an early adopter of GPS technology, and many GA aircraft rely on GPS to fly precision approaches using the wide area augmentation system (WAAS). Additionally, nearly all new GA aircraft are equipped with GPS technology, the positioning component of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) avionics, which the FAA will require by 2020 as part of NextGen.

“The current LightSquared plan has the potential to completely derail NextGen and cost GA operators dearly if they need to modify their GPS-enabled avionics,” said Bill Stine, NBAA director, international operations.

Industries, Government & Citizens Highly Concerned

GPS satellites, 12,000 miles from Earth and powered by solar panels, send signals using 50 or fewer Watts. LightSquared’s planned ground stations will transmit signals at 1,500 Watts. Because of the vast difference in the distance the signals have to travel, the signals from the ground stations could be billions of times more powerful than those from GPS satellites when they reach GPS receivers. Initial third party testing has demonstrated that GPS dead spots could result within 5-13 miles of a LightSquared ground station.

Because of these concerns, and the relative quickness with which the LightSquared plan was given initial approval by the FCC, the Departments of Defense and Transportation, the global providers of GPS service, have called on the FCC to allow further study of the potential interference to GPS.

“The intent of the LightSquared proposal is to bring wireless broadband service to the whole country, which is a good thing,” said Stine. “But you don’t do that by using spectrum that would potentially destroy one of the most widely-used critical infrastructure technologies of the last 30 years.”

Aviation is not the only sector by far that relies on GPS service. GPS equipment is widely used by first responders in emergencies; for navigation at sea; in avoiding train collisions; in civil engineering projects; and countless other commercial and civic applications. The Coalition to Save Our GPS now has more than 200 members and is committed to resolving this threat to GPS and preserving its benefits for industries, government and citizens.

Read the coalition’s letter about the LightSquared plan (60KB, PDF)

To join NBAA and the coalition’s advocacy on this vital issue, contact NBAA’s Operations Service Group at [email protected].