Navy exercise expected to disrupt aircraft GPS systems across Southeast

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Navy exercise off the Georgia coast is expected to disrupt Global Positioning System service during the next several days, potentially affecting commercial and private aircraft flying over Florida and elsewhere across the Southeast through the end of the week.

According to a Notice to Airmen issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, the disruptions began Thursday and will continue through Jan. 24. Disruptions will occur at various times and at various altitudes in an area stretching from Virginia southward to the Florida Keys, and from Georgia westward across the Florida Panhandle and most of Alabama.

Across Northwest Florida, for example, disruptions could be experienced by aircraft flying at 10,000 feet, 25,000 feet and 40,000 feet, depending on their distance from Navy Carrier Strike Group 4, operating off the extreme southeastern coast of Georgia.

The FAA notice indicates GPS disruptions are likely across the affected area between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST on Saturday, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. CST on Thursday, and from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday.

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Inquires to the Navy regarding the activities of Carrier Strike Group 4 were not immediately addressed Friday, but the FAA announcement indicated those activities were related to “GPS interference testing.” The tests are done periodically to test U.S. defense systems.

In addition to GPS, the Navy exercise is expected to affect other air navigation aids including the Wide Area Augmentation System, the Ground Base Augmentation System and the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates the interests of general aviation, has been concerned for some time about GPS interference testing.

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Rune Duke, AOPA’s senior director of government affairs for airspace, air traffic and aviation security, said the organization has recommended “better air traffic controller guidance, pilot education, improvements to aircraft systems, and changes to the timing of the military jamming” as a means of lessening the impact of GPS interference testing. But, Duke added, many of those recommendations have not gotten any official action.

“The majority of general and commercial aviation flights utilize GPS for navigation,” said Duke. And, Duke added, an FAA mandate for the use of ADS-B technology aboard aircraft means “more pilots are using GPS as part of how air traffic surveils their aircraft.”

As such, Duke said, the “incorporation of GPS technology into all aspects of aviation is concerning if the technology will regularly be interfered with.”