House Aviation Subcommittee Hears Testimony On Importance In Protecting GPS


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House Aviation Subcommittee Hears Testimony On Importance In Protecting GPS

By Eddy Metcalf

February 10, 2012 - Capt. Sean Cassidy, Air Line Pilots Association’s (ALPA) First Vice President, emphasized “the vital importance of the Global Positioning System (GPS) as a key component of [the U.S.] transportation infrastructure” during a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.  

GPS is the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides position and timing information at any place on the globe with a high degree of accuracy. The use of GPS in the aviation industry benefits safety and efficiency by providing highly reliable information when compared to the 1950’s era based technology currently in use.  

GPS will soon replace radar in the primary surveillance method, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) already utilize GPS technology in a broad variety of surveillance, navigation, safety, and efficiency applications. 

Wednesday’s “hearing brought focus on the importance of the Global Positioning System to aviation and the broader economy. Witnesses’ testimony further underscored the vital nature of GPS as an element of transportation infrastructure, ensuring the safe and efficient use of the aviation system,” said Chariman Petri. 

Cassidy, who is also ALPA’s National Safety Coordinator, testified on the operational significance of GPS to airline flying at the hearing, titled “A Review of Issues Associated with Protecting and Improving Our Nation’s Aviation Satellite-Based Global Positioning System Infrastructure.”  

Representatives from government agencies, the International Civil Aviation Organization, major aviation organizations, and avionics manufacturer Garmin expressed universal agreement that protecting GPS from potential interference is vital to U.S. security, safety, and commerce.  

They also were unanimous in their warnings that the various proposals presented by telecommunications company LightSquared to install 40,000 high-powered ground transmitters operating on the frequency immediately adjacent to that used by GPS would cause potentially catastrophic interference and widespread GPS outages.


LightSquared is a company that plans to develop a wholesale 4G LTE wireless broadband communications network integrated with satellite coverage across the United States. In a January 12, 2011 letter to the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Lawrence Strickling said that LightSquared's hybrid mobile broadband services raise "significant interference concerns. Grant of the LightSquared waiver would create a new interference environment and it is incumbent on the FCC to deal with the resulting interference issues before any interference occurs. 

Several federal agencies with vital concerns about this spectrum band, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security, have informed NTIA that they believe the FCC should defer action on the LightSquared waiver until these interference concerns are satisfactorily addressed. As Cassidy testified, “Rigorous industry and government testing demonstrated that, if the LightSquared proposal had been allowed to go forward, GPS would be inaccessible over large regions of the United States at normal operational altitudes for airliners.

“Were this proposal, or anything like it, to be allowed to proceed, pilots would lose a tremendous navigation tool that is especially important in mountainous terrain, remote areas, and bad weather, and which supports a safe and efficient air transportation system that helps drive the U.S. economy and secure tens of thousands of jobs.”

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