LightSquared plan toxic to GPS

June 23, 2011 by Craig Fuller

We’ve all heard about “toxic drugs”—medications that are brought to market, only to have the FDA discover that they have dangerous side effects. When that happens, the FDA recalls the drugs to protect the public. Today I testified before members of Congress about a different kind of toxicity—a plan that would cripple the GPS system that our national transportation network relies on. We use GPS in our airplanes every day for everything from basic navigation to precision approaches. GPS is critical to search and rescue operations, business and personal aviation, agricultural flying, law enforcement, and much more.

LightSquared’s plan to create a broadband network has been proven to interfere with GPS signals—in some cases making GPS completely unavailable. Multiple studies have concluded that LightSquared’s plan is “incompatible” with GPS use. Having been compelled to recognize the interference problem, LightSquared has proposed a series of ad hoc fixes, ranging from installing filters on GPS units to using only a portion of its allotted bandwidth—at least for now.

The fact is that these aren’t real solutions. Why not? Well, for one thing, there are absolutely no filters in existence that can do the job. Then just imagine the cost and difficulty of certifying and equipping the entire aviation fleet. And as for voluntarily limiting frequency—well, let’s just say I have my doubts about how long that would last.

The real problem here isn’t LightSquared—this is a company that wants to find innovative ways to deliver broadband nationwide. The real problem is with the FCC—the agency that granted the waiver for LightSquared to begin this program in the first place. The FCC fast-tracked LightSquared’s application and granted waivers without adequate research or testing.

Now that the problems are painfully clear, the FCC needs to withdraw its waivers—just as the FDA would withdraw a toxic drug from the market. For 28 years, since GPS was first opened to civilian use—a conversation I was directly involved in as part of the Reagan administration, by the way—the goal has been to do no harm. This plan would do irreparable harm.

It would harm aviation safety and efficiency, and completely undermine NextGen modernization efforts that are so completely dependent on GPS.

Today, speaking on behalf of many GA organizations, including EAA, NATA, and GAMA, I asked Congress to investigate the policy making process that has allowed LightSquared’s dangerous proposal to progress so far with so little understanding of the hazards.

This issue is critically important to everyone who flies—and it’s not over yet. Count on AOPA and our fellow GA organizations to stay on top of this issue. And be sure to stay informed through, AOPA Aviation eBrief, ePilot, and our other communication tools. Your engagement with this issue is critical to our ability to protect GPS.

  • Bruce Liddel

    Well, Craig, in 2004, the FCC also allowed a waiver for broadband over powerlines (BPL), another positively horrible idea on the surface. BPL had the potential to blow away the automatic direction finder (ADF), so I brought the issue to the attention of AOPA under Phil’s administration, and AOPA dropped the ball. It was the ARRL who shouldered the burden of proving again and again that there were absolutely no reasonable fixes for BPL.

    I’m glad to see that, this time, AOPA recognizes the real threat, and acts accordingly.

  • Elliot Zeltzer

    Bravo Craig,

    We need to assure that politics and political funding to not overrun important public policy. The FCC needs to be directed to withdraw its waiver and establish a rule that those portions of the frequency spectrum designated for satellite use remain exclusive for that purpose now and in the future to avoid a repeat of this insanity again.

    I am glad to see the AOPA work together with a diverse interest group to protect the services we so heavily depend on.

  • Peter Horvat

    I wonder whose palm got greased on this deal…hmmmm???

  • MachBuster

    Knee jerk reactions? First, who needs ADF? Second, LS and GPS operate in juxtaposed frequency bands as do many other users. So what’s the problem? LS may make broadband available to everyone. I am sure an effective solution can be found.

  • Russell L. Halbrook

    I have read the above article in the latest issue and as the owner of a Cessna 150 – the whole concern is of no concern to me.I was one of a great many small plane and small boat owners who WAS using Loran for navigational purposes, and it was completely adequate for my navigational needs. The Coast Guard decided that everyone navigating anything should be willing to fork out huge dollars for a GPS system that in my case could easily cost more than I paid for the plane itself. I aqlso never received any notification that Loran was to be terminated, and no information that AOPA was doing anything to protect it for the small airplane users. It disappeared overnight without my knowledge. This, along with the closing of Meigs airport in Cnicago has left me with a poor attitude as to AOPA doing anything to promote SMALL AIRCRAFT owners ability to fly with affordable equipmemt. I have been a member of AOPA since 1989 when I purchased my plane, but the above incidents has led me to believe that they are not looking out for the interest of the small aircraft owner. All advertising and articles written by the Staff are geared for aircreaft starting at above $100,000 withall the latest exotic radio and navigational systems.

  • grumpy

    Who owns the airwaves anyway????????????

  • http://AOPAonline Marc M

    Goverment agencies should stick to providing unbiased oversight in instances such as these. When they are allowed to take an interest in any one venture over an other, this is what you get, let the private sector handle that part of it.

  • http://AOPAonline Marc M

    In regards to the coments of Russell with the 150, I too fly a small seemingly insignificant little airplane. My 46′ Luscombe doesn’t even have an electrical system in it, let alone any NAV insturments, and thats how I like it. It’s to bad about the Loran in Russell’s airplane, I used to fly a Cap-10 with Loran in it. Although we cant keep every single system out there up and running indefinetly, I think that we should not be so quick to dump the old technology and replace it with the newest thing out there judt because its neat!, there are a lot of pilot like Russell and I out there. As far as the AOPA catering to the high price spread, thats a tough call. I only recently joined AOPA because I understood the value of supporting an organization the lobbied for pilots rights, along with the EAA, even though my personal flying interests are more represented by an organization like EAA, I’m glad to see those organizations banding together. I would hope that enough members of AOPA realize that the kind of flying that Russell and I do, and the types of airplanes that he and I have, ie..the Cessna 150 and my Luscome 8-A, are accesible financially to more people, than the high priced stuff out there, ie..approve more airplane types for the ‘Light Sprt Class’. If we want to get more people into the air we need to address the outragous costs of flight training, otherwise this general aviation thing will wind up being just another play toy of the elite class.

  • charles

    looking to go back to traning i don’t think a gps should be the first thing i look for mabe a good transponder and a map but a gps is a good back up just pull it out of your pocket and see where you are going up good traning to use radio always helps, looking at the gps systems is grate to lighten the load of things to do while flying and i hope we will always have this tool if we need it.

  • Brian

    As a 10 year member of AOPA, I found that they often make two assumptions: (1) most of the members either own or are considering a Learjet purchase, and (2) if you are worried about the cost of flying, you shouldn’t be a pilot.

    But, when it comes to defending general aviation, I think the AOPA has always done its best to represent its membership. I never used the Loran, but I do know the feeling of being a small fish (like the ELT conversion or the sudden decommissioning of VORs). As for Meigs field, I think Daley should have gone to jail. But if you have ever met a politician from Chicago, you know that it is a whole different political system where criminals wear ties.