GPS interference now a major flight safety concern for airline industry

You're wrong to think that jammin' was a thing of the past

Europe's aviation safety body is working with the airline industry to counter a danger posed by interference with GPS signals - now seen as a growing threat to the safety of air travel.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) held a recent workshop on incidents where people spoofed and jammed satellite navigation systems, and concluded these pose a "significant challenge" to safety.

Mitigating the risks posed by such actions will require measures to be enacted in the short term as well as medium and long term timescales, the two bodies said. They want to start by sharing information about the incidents and any potential remedies.

In Europe, this information sharing will occur through the European Occurrence Reporting scheme and EASA's Data4Safety program. Given the global nature of the problem, a broader solution would be better, but this would have to be pursued at a later date, EASA said.

Inevitably, another of the measures involves retaining traditional navigation aids to ensure there is a conventional backup for GNSS navigation, while a third calls for guidance from aircraft manufacturers to airlines and other aircraft operators to ensure they know how to manage jamming and spoofing situations.

As a further measure, EASA said it will inform all relevant stakeholders, which includes airlines, air navigation service providers, airports and the air industry, about recorded incidents.

Interference with global navigation systems can take one of two forms: jamming requires nothing more than transmitting a radio signal strong enough to drown out those from GPS satellites, while spoofing is more insidious and involves transmitting fake signals that fool the receiver into calculating its position incorrectly.

According to EASA, jamming and spoofing incidents have increasingly threatened the integrity of location services across Eastern Europe and the Middle East in recent years.

The finger of suspicion has pointed at Russia in many of these incidents, such as jamming of GPS signals reported by Bulgarian pilots in the Black Sea region last year, and similar incidents reported by Romania.

Bulgarian officials are reported to have said that the problems with GPS date from the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, and are likely attempts by the Russian military to disrupt Ukrainian drone attacks against the invaders.

Yet incidents have also occurred beyond the Black Sea, with recent disruptions reported to GPS signals in Poland and the Baltic area as well. These affected aircraft GPS systems, but the aircraft in question were able to fall back onto other navigation aids.

GPS spoofing was reported in the Middle East too, emanating from an unknown source somewhere in the Iran-Iraq area, while EASA also warned last year of an increase in jamming or spoofing in geographical areas surrounding conflict zones, but also in the eastern Mediterranean and Arctic area.

EASA acting executive director Luc Tytgat said the rise in these kinds of attack makes air travel less safe. "We immediately need to ensure that pilots and crews can identify the risks and know how to react and land safely," he said in a statement.

"In the medium term, we will need to adapt the certification requirements of the navigation and landing systems. For the longer term, we need to ensure we are involved in the design of future satellite navigation systems. Countering this risk is a priority for the Agency," Tytgat added.

The IATA said that coordinated action is needed, including sharing of safety data and a commitment from nations to retain traditional navigation systems as backup.

Whatever actions are taken, airlines must be the focal point of the solution as they are the front line facing the risk, claimed IATA director general Willie Walsh.

Walsh will be familiar to many as the former chief exec of both Aer Lingus and British Airways.

One company specializing in RF technology for defense and national security agencies claims on its website that spectrum monitoring can be used for detection and location of jammers and said there are anti-jamming and anti-spoofing systems that can distinguish genuine GPS signals to allow GPS location and timing services to continue even during an incident. ®

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