Congress calls for study of GPS backup

October 27, 2009

As VORs are being decommissioned and with loran-C on the chopping block, pilots are relying more on satellite-based technology for navigation—but what will happen if there is a GPS outage? The House of Representatives is calling for the Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to study whether there is a continued need for a backup navigation system to GPS.

The House voted Oct. 23 to authorize Coast Guard programs for the current fiscal year. The bill included an amendment to require a study on whether a backup for GPS is needed and an investigation of the capabilities of available backup technologies such as long-range navigation (loran).

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.), ranking member of the Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced the amendment with Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine).

“In many regions around the country, the GPS can be found unreliable,” LoBiondo said as he proposed the amendment. “… Our amendment would simply require the two departments to study the issue of whether a backup to the GPS is needed for safe navigation and report the findings to Congress.”

The amendment would require the Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to “analyze the impact of the termination of a supplemental system may have on maritime and aviation safety, including general aviation.” Loran is a potential ground-based backup system to GPS. A previous study commissioned by the Department of Transportation already has recommended that the government complete its upgrade to enhanced loran (eLoran) so that the upgraded system can serve as a backup.

The Coast Guard currently maintains loran-C, but the conference report for this year’s Homeland Security appropriations bill allows decommissioning loran-C if the Coast Guard determines it is not needed as a backup to GPS. The House passed the conference report Oct. 15.