February 13, 2012

The largest U.S. airline trade association joined forces with the General Aviation (GA) community on February 8 to send a strong, unified message to congressional lawmakers: Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is too important to aviation safety to risk interference, and that “the matter needs to be put to rest once and for all.”

Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the 400,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), reinforced that message in testimony he gave the subcommittee, and suggested a possible route to avoid such issues in the future. “As pilots flying in the United States, we experience firsthand the safest and most efficient air transportation system in the world,” he said. “General aviation pilots rely on GPS in all phases of flight…Given the importance of GPS, a clear statement of the need and intent to protect the system from a wide range of harmful actions would be an effective starting point. In addition, the creation and enforcement of new protections will require extensive cross-agency and user collaboration, to include input from FAA [the Federal Aviation Administration], FCC, DOD [the Department of Defense], DHS [the Department of Homeland Security], the Department of Agriculture, and others whose policies and decisions impact the viability of the GPS system.” Read Fuller’s testimony.

A similar message was delivered by Thomas L. Hendricks, Senior Vice President of Safety, Security and Operations for Airlines for America (A4A), formerly known as the Air Transport Association. “GPS is critically important to the millions of customers who airlines fly every day, and is the heart of a multibillion dollar system to modernize the air navigation system,” said A4A Senior Vice President for Safety, Security and Operations Tom Hendricks, who testified before the House Aviation Subcommittee. “The stakes are too high for passengers, shippers and communities that rely on air service to leave to chance our ability to utilize GPS to the greatest advantage.” Read Hendricks’s testimony.

NBAA has also been outspoken on the need to protect the nation’s GPS system. Last June, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen submitted written testimony to the House Aviation Subcommittee for a hearing held at that time on the issue. “For more than three decades, the GPS, as administered by the U.S. Department of Defense, has been integral part of our nation’s infrastructure,” Bolen’s testimony noted. “Today, more than 60 percent of the 11,000 business aircraft operating in the U.S. are equipped with various GPS capabilities required for instrument approaches at over 5000 airports in the U.S.” Read Bolen’s full testimony from the June 2011 hearing.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave conditional approval to begin test deployment of a proposed long-term evolution (LTE) network in January 2011, before the results of tests demonstrating catastrophic interference with lower-power transmissions used by GPS receivers were widely known. The resulting outcry from the GPS community – which, in addition to aviation, also includes users in agriculture, ground transportation, rescue operations, and the military, in addition to dozens of other industries – forced the FCC to suspend that preliminary approval, pending additional tests.

As NBAA has reported, subsequent testing confirmed that interference. A report submitted last month by the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) determined “no practical solutions” were available to allow the proposed broadband service to operate “without significantly interfering with GPS.”

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, of which NBAA is a founding member, reported that Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari also testified at the hearing. Porcari noted over $2 million has spent by the FAA to investigate the matter, and that “further investment cannot be justified at this time” on tests to combat what he termed a “fundamental incompatibility” between GPS receivers and signals from other emerging technologies.