Tide may turn for potential GPS backup

June 18, 2009

With the proposed termination of the loran (long-range navigation) system in the president’s budget for next year, aviation users could lose a potential backup for GPS. But measures in the House and Senate could save the system from the chopping block.

A Coast Guard authorization bill in the Senate and a Homeland Security appropriations bill in the House call for the Coast Guard, which operates loran, to maintain and upgrade the system as a backup for satellite-based navigation.

“In the event of a GPS outage, it is important to have a separate, ground-based navigation system in place,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “AOPA has long cautioned against decommissioning loran before a backup is established.”

Establishing a reliable backup system for GPS is especially important given a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that says delays in the development and launch of new satellites could lead to interruptions in GPS service as early as next year. An Independent Assessment Team (IAT) report released this year from the Institute for Defense Analyses recommends that the U.S. government complete its upgrade of loran, to eLoran, so that it can serve as a long-term backup for GPS.

The legislation in the House and Senate rejects the president’s proposal to decommission loran, which the White House says will save $36 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years. Both bills continue funding for loran and eLoran and direct the Coast Guard to report on the transition to the enhanced system. The Senate bill (S.1194), which authorizes Coast Guard programs over the next two fiscal years, directs the Coast Guard to maintain the current loran-C navigation system until explicitly told otherwise. The House bill, which provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security for the next year, rejects the termination of loran-C sites that had been recommended by the Obama administration.