AOPA Joins Broad Coalition Urging the Federal Communications Commission to “Save Our GPS”

October 3, 2011

GPS users in a variety of industries joined together March 10 to speak out against a waiver that many think could disrupt GPS signals, with far-reaching consequences.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted mobile-satellite services operator LightSquared a waiver allowing it to repurpose the satellite spectrum immediately neighboring that of GPS. Given pilots’ widespread use of GPS and the FAA’s transition from ground-based to satellite-based navigation and surveillance (known as NextGen), AOPA petitioned the FCC to reverse the authorization until LightSquared can prove it will not interfere with GPS. Now the association has joined with other aviation associations and a wide range of other users in the Coalition to Save Our GPS to seek protection for GPS technology.

"General aviation pilots and aircraft owners were among the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of GPS technology," AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger said, explaining the association’s participation in the coalition. "In addition to simplifying navigation, the technology has allowed thousands of America's community airports to become all-weather airports, significantly enhancing safety for pilots and utility for communities. And even today, years before NextGen is fully implemented, it helps reduce congestion by allowing more direct air traffic routing. Loss of GPS utility could reduce safety by forcing those airports to revert to fair-weather-only and increase air traffic congestion by reducing navigation options."

The broad coalition cites concerns for GPS users in public safety, homeland security, consumer navigation, aviation, surface transportation, agriculture, forestry, engineering, land management, utilities, research, and more.

The coalition cites initial technical analyses that indicate that low-powered GPS signals would receive substantial interference from LightSquared’s network of high-powered, close-proximity ground transmissions. The conditional waiver granted to LightSquared requires the network operator to participate in a process that addresses the interference concerns regarding GPS, but it does not require LightSquared to fix interference problems before deploying service.

"The usual FCC process is to conduct extensive testing followed by approvals. For LightSquared, the process was approve first, then test," the coalition’s white paper says.

The FCC imposed several other compliance conditions after AOPA and other industry organizations objected to the planned expansion. The Coalition to Save Our GPS called for additional safeguards, including that the FCC require concerns to be resolved to the satisfaction of existing GPS providers and users, and that GPS users not bear additional costs to prevent interference.

"AOPA’s members and the air travelers who depend on GPS simply cannot afford the uncertainty of the current and future potential dangers to the GPS system that has become and will continue to be increasingly crucial to all aspects of safe and efficient air travel," Rudinger wrote in AOPA’s application for review.