Yes, we got your letter. That, in essence, was the FAA’s message to general aviation on a topic of growing concern: How to reduce the impact of intentional GPS dial-downs on a NextGen air traffic control system ever more dependent on GPS navigation.
For years, AOPA and other aviation organizations have expressed reservations about the increase in intentional government jamming of GPS reception for “deprived environment” military exercises while sometimes doubting that officials shared the sense of urgency.
The FAA gave an update during a recent virtual airspace briefing on what it is doing to make the planned GPS outages conducted by the Department of Defense less of a risk to GA. Officials summarized several actions implemented and other steps being planned to mitigate the possibility of a sudden loss of GPS navigation for GA aircraft, said Jim McClay, AOPA director of airspace, air traffic, and security.
The briefing itself amounted to a long-promised response to the letter AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association sent to the two government agencies in February, noting that GA had received no acknowledgement of recommended fixes offered three years ago.
Since then, McClay said, GPS jamming events have increased both in number and in areas affected by the staging of military training exercises that are based on depriving the participating forces of some GPS functions.
According to an NBAA news release issued after the briefing, in the past 10 years GPS interference events nearly quadrupled. In the last two or three years, locations where the events took place have doubled, it said.
For pilots seeking awareness of GPS-deprived airspace, rusty preflight planning skills won’t make life easier. Although the FAA said it has increased its advance notice for issuing advisories about specific GPS jamming activities to 120 hours, the notams may not appear in a standard briefing, McClay said. An additional complication is that the relevant notam could be buried in a long list of other notams.
AOPA and NBAA representatives also emphasized to officials that including graphics could help pilots interpret GPS notams. McClay believes officials received the message.
“They emphasized a desire to continue working with industry on this,” he said, adding that the FAA assured the stakeholders that it was not ignoring the 25 mitigations the industry proposed in a 2018 report from the Tactical Operations Committee of the aviation technical advisory organization RTCA.
As discussions continue, one measure that could reduce the impact of GPS jamming is an effort by the Pentagon to coordinate its event scheduling with the FAA’s air route traffic control centers to avoid jamming signals during the ARTCCs’ busiest periods of traffic volume, he said.