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.org, AOPA Aviation eBrief, ePilot, and our other communication tools. Your engagement with this issue is critical to our ability to protect GPS.