DOT Deputy Secretary Says LightSquared’s Plans “Not Compatible” with Safety-of-Flight Operations

Two key aviation associations call for an end to LightSquared’s proposal; essential nature of GPS to aviation safety cited

Washington, D.C. – Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari testified today that FAA tests show that LightSquared’s proposed terrestrial network is “not compatible” with numerous GPS-enabled aviation safety-of-flight operations and that “there appears to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS.”

His comments came as two key aviation associations – one representing all of the principal U.S. airlines, and the other, a 400,000 member association of general aviation aircraft owners and pilots – called for an end to consideration of LightSquared’s proposal to immediately deploy terrestrial operations in the mobile satellite service band adjacent to GPS. One association called for LightSquared to withdraw its proposals; the other for the conditional waiver granted LightSquared by the FCC’s International Bureau to be rescinded.

The DOT deputy secretary said that the “FAA concluded that LightSquared’s proposed terrestrial network is not compatible with FAA requirements for low-altitude operations in the vicinity of LightSquared transmitters,” and that this “incompatibility is primarily focused on lower-altitude aviation operations, including use of GPS for terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS), navigation operations to included GPS-based approaches, departures and some low-altitude enroute flight, and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B).”

Porcari was testifying before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said the FAA alone has spent more than $2 million testing LightSquared’s various proposals and that “further investment cannot be justified at this time.” Porcari referred to LightSquared’s plans as causing “considerable harmful interference with GPS” and referred to the “fundamental incompatibility” between LightSquared’s proposal and “continued use of GPS” for air navigational uses. 

In prepared testimony, representatives of three organizations that are members of the Coalition to Save Our GPS told the subcommittee how essential GPS is to current and future aviation safety, referred to the grave interference LightSquared’s proposal causes the use of GPS in aviation, and called for improvements in the process of considering future threats to GPS.

Thomas L. Hendricks, Senior Vice President of Safety, Security and Operations for Airlines for America (A4A), said, “With respect to the LightSquared proposal, the incontestable fact is that it will create widespread GPS interference, which will have ruinous effects on aviation.  Experts have repeatedly reached that conclusion. LightSquared’s proposal therefore should be withdrawn. The matter needs to be put to rest once and for all.”

Hendricks also said, “One obvious lesson of the convoluted experience with the LightSquared application is the need for a government policy that protects the aviation GPS spectrum. Without such an authoritative policy, spectrum encroachment will remain a threat.” He described GPS as being “at the heart of the ongoing, multi-billion dollar NextGen program that will shift air navigation” to a “modern satellite-based system,” and said, “The introduction in the coming decades of NextGen capabilities will be the real game-changer. Its integration of GPS with other technological innovations will create the satellite-based system of air traffic management that we all realize is so necessary. GPS is the indispensable element of this long-needed haul.” Hendricks said the federal government “must develop comprehensive safeguards for aviations’ use” of GPS, and that “we need a government-wide policy that guides federal agencies’ responses when potential interference issues emerge. That policy must make clear that interference in the aviation spectrum is prohibited and that other users cannot be permitted to encroach into the aviation spectrum.”

Craig Fuller, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), said general aviation pilots “rely on GPS in all phases of flight,” and that approximately “70 percent of AOPA’s members rely on GPS as their primary means of navigation while many of the remainder use it as a backup form of navigation.” He said that since GPS was made available for civilian use “it has become a critical part of our national transportation infrastructure” and stressed that “there is currently no designated alternative to GPS in the event the system becomes inaccessible for any reason.”

Referring to a December 14, 2011 statement by the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) that said an analysis of new tests by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “found interference with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain,” Fuller said, “PNT’s clear and to the point findings on the LightSquared proposals are instructive on the importance of avoiding harmful interference to GPS receivers and GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems. Additional protections are needed to ensure that similar proposals do not advance to the stage that they receive conditional approvals or waivers. The development of such protections will require the collaboration of numerous agencies whose policies and decisions affect the GPS system.”

In his testimony today, Fuller said his association strongly endorses the PNT past statements, as well as Porcari’s today testimony, and said, “We strongly urge the FCC to rescind waivers that keep this cloud” over the aviation industry.

John M. Foley, Director of Aviation GNSS Technology, Garmin International, Inc., called the hearing “timely,” saying, “Over the last twelve months and continuing today, we have seen one part of our government come close to authorizing a new high powered terrestrial broadband service that would have posed an extreme threat to the existence of GPS. We think it is very prudent today to review what we have learned from that experience as well as the extensive GPS benefits that we might have lost, so history does not repeat itself.”

Foley said Garmin customers, as well as documented studies, consistently point to the life-safety improvements that GPS makes to aviation safety, and referenced numerous reductions in fatalities attributed to GPS. Foley urged that “future coordination be improved through some type of mechanism that requires the FCC to obtain PNT EXCOM sign-off or approval when proceedings before the FCC include documented or substantiated claims of potential interference to GPS.”

He said that “Garmin and other manufacturers like it have had their businesses greatly disrupted by the failure of constituent parts of the government to coordinate effectively among themselves,” and said Garmin “encourages government decision makers to take the lessons of this ‘trial run’ to heart, so that we put in place enforcement and coordination mechanism to ensure that the unthinkable does not occur in the future.”

About A4A, AOPA and Garmin:
• A4A, whose board of directors is composed of executive leadership from the leading U.S. airlines, was founded in 1936 and was the first and remains the only trade organization of the principal U.S. airlines. Its members and affiliates transport more than 90 percent of U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic.
• AOPA has approximately 400,000 members, and represents the interests of its members as aircraft owners and pilots concerning the economy, safety, utility, and popularity of flight in general aviation (G
A) aircraft.
• Garmin is the leading manufacturer of GPS products for the GA industry in the United States. It has been manufacturing GPS-enabled navigational devices since 1991 and is a leading supplier of general location/navigation GPS devices to consumers around the world.