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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Future GPS utility, quality at risk

By JOSEPH E. (JEB) BURNSIDE

Today it’s increasingly rare to find an airplane, automobile, or even a modern cellphone without GPS technology. But if a well-funded and politically connected company has its way, most existing GPS navigators could be rendered useless by the land-based broadband network it seeks to create. LightSquared plans to install some 40,000 ground-based transmitters using a frequency spectrum immediately adjacent to that used by the far weaker GPS signal. EAA is urging members to contact their congressional representatives and request they act to protect the GPS system’s integrity by communicating the impact interference would have on the safe operation of their aircraft.

When looking around the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 exhibits, it can be difficult to remember the time, actually not that long ago, when we used something other than GPS for electronic navigation.

The satellite-based position-finding system has grown into an almost indispensable utility since becoming publicly available in the 1990s.

Today it’s increasingly rare to find an airplane, automobile or even a modern cell phone without the technology.

But if a well-funded and politically connected company has its way, most existing GPS navigators could be rendered useless by the land-based broadband network it seeks to create.

The company is LightSquared, and the problem is its plan to install some 40,000 ground-based transmitters using frequency spectrum immediately adjacent to that used by the far weaker GPS signal.

Those 40,000 transmitters are vastly more powerful, create widespread interference, and disrupt GPS signal for miles in every direction around them.

Despite well-documented studies confirming interference and disruption, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has so far refused to overturn its January 2011 decision granting LightSquared a waiver.

The waiver allows LightSquared to abandon its original plan to use satellites for its broadband signal and, instead, build the ground-based stations.

Soon afterward, organizations as diverse as the U.S. Air Force, Deere & Co., United Parcel Service and the EAA began expressing their opposition to the FCC’s action, noting the resulting interference with GPS was unacceptable.

A new organization—the Coalition to Save Our GPS—sprang up as an information clearinghouse and presently boasts hundreds of organizations—including EAA—and thousands of individuals among its members.

Considering that opposition, most observers would conclude it’s just a matter of time before the FCC changes its mind and send LightSquared’s plans back to a drawing board.

But the company is fighting back with everything it has—money, big-dollar advertising—and a resolution to this dilemma favorable to GPS users is not assured.

EAA is working very aggressively on Capitol Hill educating lawmakers in both chambers on the potential damage from LightSquared’s proposal. Language has been introduced in the Finance appropriations bill regarding the issue, and serious concern over GPS interference—including the adverse affects it would have on NextGen and ADS-B—was voiced in June at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The association is urging EAA members to contact their congressional representatives and request they act to protect the GPS system’s integrity by communicating the impact interference would have on the safe operation of their aircraft.

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