Pressure builds on FCC to revisit network’s threat to GPS

March 30, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) failed to balance a satellite network operator’s claim of public interest against the “massive problems” that expansion of its network could cause for the aviation industry and other GPS users, AOPA said March 29.

AOPA, working with a multi-industry coalition, is urging the FCC to reverse a waiver it granted to communications network operator LightSquared to “repurpose” a portion of the satellite spectrum neighboring that used by GPS. By granting the waiver, AOPA said, the FCC failed to give proper weight to the “substantial evidence” in the record that the network expansion—with its 40,000 required ground stations—could cause “significant desensitization” of GPS receivers “and massive problems that issue would create for the aviation industry.”

The severity of the potential impact made it inappropriate for the FCC to merely impose as a condition of approval a waiver with a requirement that LightSquared work with users—in a group to be co-chaired by the company—to study effects of its network on GPS, wrote AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger in a March 29 rebuttal of LightSquared’s response to comments urging reconsideration of its approval to expand its mobile satellite services network’s use of the spectrum. That condition left LightSquared itself in a position to determine whether the relief it had received was “technically sound.”

“Such an investigation should have been headed by the [FCC International] Bureau or a neutral third party, not LightSquared,” she wrote.

Concern has been growing about the threat to GPS in the aviation community and other industries since LightSquared applied for the waiver. On March 10, AOPA announced that it had joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS, whose goal is to protect the “national utility” that GPS represents against the threat of signal degradation or interference.

Federal officials have also expressed concerns about the impact on GPS, as well as the structure of the working group set up by the FCC. Following a meeting between Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and industry leaders in Wichita, Kansas, officials criticized the lack of “federal stakeholders” being included in the GPS review process.  In a joint letter to the FCC, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari and Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III asked for clarification about how national security and transportation safety issues would be addressed.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) welcomed the officials’ active engagement in the LightSquared proceedings.

“We are very appreciative that Secretary LaHood has taken up this issue in partnership with Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates, since the consequences of disruption to GPS signals are far reaching,” said Gary Kelley, vice president of marketing and company officer for Garmin International and a member of the GPS coalition, in a GAMA news release.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.