AOPA successfully rallies senators to protect GPS

May 23, 2011

Thirty-three senators—including 13 Senate General Aviation Caucus members—have asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to rescind wireless network operator LightSquared’s approval to expand until the company can demonstrate that signals from thousands of ground stations won’t interfere with GPS reception. 

On the heels of a successful legislative effort by AOPA and others, nearly a third of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asking him to take all necessary steps to protect GPS “from interference that could cause interruptions” from LightSquared’s wireless network.

LightSquared, under terms of a conditional waiver it received from the FCC’s International Bureau, must demonstrate through tests and analysis that its network, which would make use of more than 40,000 transmitting stations, will not interfere with GPS. The waiver has been criticized by the multi-industry Coalition to Save Our GPS and government officials as a “highly unusual” FCC action, given the “fundamentally different” nature of the network from what the commission’s integrated service rule permits.

AOPA reported May 12 that Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) had appealed to their colleagues to join them in expressing concerns about interference with GPS, and that LightSquared’s testing was set to begin in mid-May in Nevada. AOPA has urged pilots flying in the vicinity of Boulder City and Las Vegas, Nev., to promptly report any GPS signal degradation during the various test periods to the FAA and the association through the conclusion of tests May 27.

“Numerous parties have raised significant concerns about interference from the LightSquared system into the Global Positioning System (GPS) frequencies,” said the May 19 letter. “These parties included the GPS industry, aviation, agriculture, construction, cellular telecommunications companies and government entities such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Homeland Security. We have substantial concerns that LightSquared’s proposal places an unacceptable risk to public safety through interference with GPS receivers necessary for aviation, first responders, agriculture, construction, maritime navigation, E-911, and national defense systems.”

The letter called on Genachowski to involve the full commission “in the process of making sure GPS is not compromised in any way, that the FCC require an objective demonstration of non-interference with GPS, and that the waiver for LightSquared be withdrawn until this demonstration is met.”

“AOPA and our fellow aviation industry stakeholders have been working diligently to gather support in the Senate for the letter to the FCC,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.  “Almost a third of the Senate signed this letter to protect our GPS, which is significant and sends a strong message to the FCC.”

In addition to Roberts and Nelson, the bipartisan group of senators who signed the letter included Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), David Vitter (R-La.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and John Thune (R-S.D.).