Wireless Utility Controls Jammed GPS Near Airport


Pilots using Wilmington Airport in North Carolina are hoping the mysterious and random interruptions in GPS service near the airport are a thing of the past after an FAA team tracked down the likely cause. The agency officials discovered signals coming from a utility company’s wireless control system were jamming GPS within a two-mile radius of the airport. Pilots had reported losing the signal in critical phases of flight including instrument approaches. The situation was serious enough that it prompted a 25-NM NOTAM around the airport warning pilots they could lose GPS.

Authorities shut down 85 “emitters” used by the system within two miles of the airport and the outages stopped, according to the ILM Pilots Association newsletter. Officials have now narrowed down the culprit to the control system’s antenna and it will have to be redesigned. The FCC and FAA will also be on the lookout to see if systems similar to the one in Wilmington are causing issues near airports anywhere else in the country. The NOTAM is still posted but the association is hoping it will be taken down after the next visit by the FAA’s navaid validation aircraft.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Hope this is not a preview of how problems will be addressed after the Ligado nee Lightsquared rollout. The FAA doing the FCC’s job? On a case-by-case basis? All the ingredients for Ligado to operate without consequence except for the minor speedbump or two.

  2. I suspect this is just the beginning. Maybe the FAA should re-evaluate it’s MON concept and come up with a better backup solution to GPS.

    • My trusty old Flybuddy Loran-C was good enough to tell me whether I’d returned to the same parking spot on the ramp. That’s a Δ of 60 feet!

      Cheap and reliable receivers; a small handful of transmitters. Obama NEVER should have shut it down.

  3. It wasn’t Obama. “The future of Loran-C began in the 1990s; several turn-off dates were announced, then cancelled. In 2010 the Canadian systems were shut down, along with Loran-C/CHAYKA stations shared with Russia. One of the reasons for Loran-C’s opening to the public was the move from Loran to new forms of navigation, including inertial navigation systems, Transit and OMEGA, meant that the security of Loran was no longer as stringent as it was as a primary form of navigation. As these newer systems gave way to GPS through the 1980s and 90s, this process repeated itself, but this time the military was able to separate GPS’s signals in such a way that it could provide both secure military and insecure civilian signals at the same time. GPS was more difficult to receive and decode, but by the 1990s the required electronics were already as small and inexpensive as Loran-C, leading to rapid adoption that has become largely universal.” In short, we all abandoned it to GPS. Loran-C was good, but face it, some people still like Windows 3.1!

    • What I like is anything that’s reliable and affordable.
      An abacus is better than a P.C. that doesn’t work.

      What’s cheaper for the government to operate – Loran-C, or a nationwide limited fleet of VOR/DME transmitters? Which offers more utility?

  4. The FCC was created to manage spectrum assignment as well as police the use of it, and until a couple of decades ago it was primarily a technically oriented agency, heavily into insuring when they made frequency assignments both the assignment and the use thereof was compatible with other spectrum users. Then came the realization among the political class that selling RF spectrum was a wonderful way for the government to slurp up billions of dollars from private industry without unduly angering voters. The inevitable result is technical considerations now take a back seat to money and politics, and if “the public interest” sometimes suffers as a result, well, too bad.

  5. I am in the process of installing the Dynon Skyview HDX system. I have been roundly criticized for wanting to keep my KX-155/KI-206 GS/Loc which will not feed the Skyview HSI. I am also keeping the ADF even though the busy bees at the FAA are decommissioning NDB approaches fast as they can. It can still receive AM radio and WJR, KDKA, WBBM and WBZ and track them. As a side benefit, I can listen to the Phillies, Tigers, and Cubs ball games. My Garmin GNS feeds the new gadget, but I still think I should insist on a panel with some redundancy: LF/MF, VHF, UHF/gps. The Loran C is still sitting on the shelf in the hangar….just in case. Phil Harbin’s dirt cheap spectrum auction purchase of the GPS guardband shunned by the established wireless companies who knew it could not be used for terrestrial comm begat Lightsquared and its testing in the SW demonstrated what was known to everyone but Harbin. Out of the ashes of the well deserved bankruptcy, the new Lightsquared/Legato will do the same thing and the FCC is allowing it. Come to think of it, I’m keeping the whiskey compass too.