Brussels mulling radio navigation safety plan

Thousands of people throughout Europe are using GPS jammers that could stop tracking systems from working – including safety critical navigation systems used by modern aircraft.

At the recent Munich Satellite Navigation Summit delegates met to discuss how to back up Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) which are increasingly used to help make air travel safer and more efficient in future.

There are three distinct forms of deliberate interference with GNSS signals: jamming, spoofing, and meaconing but it is jamming that is the most likely activity which will impact a conventional industrial use GPS system, according to a 2011 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The crudest form of jamming simply transmits a noise signal across one or more of the GNSS frequencies to raise the noise level or overload the receiver circuitry and cause loss of lock.

Circuits and assembly instructions for GPS jammers are widely available on the internet while sophisticated jammers that can fit into a pocket can be bought for less than £20. Most are designed to block GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO systems.

Dominic Hayes from the European Commission who spoke at the conference panel session ‘GNSS – Is It Time for Backup?’ told delegates that the Commission had collected electronic signatures of over 100,000 jammers in Europe.

Hayes, a spectrum management and policy expert for Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus at the Commission, said that Brussels believes that more than one backup system is now needed if all users are to be protected and that a comprehensive approach is required. The Commission is considering a European Radio Navigation Plan (ERNP) to help support this.

The development of an ERNP will be a complex process with a large number of stakeholders involved, therefore some key background information about the ecosystem of radio navigation systems in Europe needs to be gathered in order to develop future policy.

scoping study was therefore launched last year to start constructing an ERNP. This will feature an inventory of all the radio navigation systems currently deployed in Europe, and information on who uses those systems and how they are regulated including a forecast of how those systems will evolve within a 10-15 year timeframe.

“We’re at the early stages of gathering information about navigation uses and options in the European Union. The intention is to get a picture of Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) solutions used and eventually to provide guidance to member states,” Hayes told Air Traffic Management magazine.

President of the Resilient Navigation & Timing Foundation Dana Goward who reported on the conference panel through a social media post said that while there was a general consensus on the need for one or more complementary and backup systems for GNSS, there was an interesting difference of views between the United States and Europe.

A representative from the US said that the government was proceeding on a course to implement one. Harold ‘Stormy’ Martin from the US National Coordination Office, explained that the US President had directed action in 2004 and that Congress recently reinforced the need for a complementary and backup system for GPS which – while under development  – is long past the time for the system to be in place.

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Panelists described desirable characteristics of systems to complement, backup, or augment GNSS

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