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Keeping Watch on 5G Impact on Aviation GPS

April 23, 2020 - An old nemesis to aviation GPS signal integrity made a new appearance this month as a satellite company named Ligado advanced its 5G wireless plan with an approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

The company, formerly known as LightSquared, is pushing for permission to begin terrestrial 5G cellular and data service on frequencies it owns that were intended for satellite use. The proposal has caused divisions among government agencies as well as major corporations. It is similar to the plan the company brought forward in 2012, which faced major opposition before being rejected by the FCC. Recently, the FCC reversed its position and approved the Ligado proposal.

Commercial and general aviation interests are both opposed to the new plan, as it could cause interference with GPS signals increasingly relied upon for air traffic separation and aircraft navigation, including precision and nonprecision instrument approaches. The Department of Defense has also come out strongly against the proposal as a technology that could cost billions of dollars to replace GPS equipment in military aircraft.

"It seems very odd that at the same time that the FAA is increasingly relying on GPS technology for everything from ADS-B and NextGen to tracking unmanned aerial systems in the national airspace, another government agency would approve a plan that would degrade that technology and make aviation less safe," said Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of advocacy and safety. "It was a bad proposal a decade ago, and it remains so."

Supporters of the plan, which include some of the country's largest telecommunications conglomerates and some White House advisers, maintain that the plan is needed to fully integrate 5G technology throughout the country, including such innovations as driverless cars and smart-home technology.

EAA remains adamantly opposed to inappropriate frequency spectrum allocation and use that could degrade the accuracy or integrity of GPS signals that have become integral to the utility and safety of the national airspace system.

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