The Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) held a hearing this morning to review the Global Positioning System (GPS) as a critical part of transportation infrastructure.
GPS is the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides position and timing information at any place on the globe with a high degree of accuracy. The use of GPS in the aviation industry benefits safety and efficiency by providing highly reliable information when compared to the 1950's era based technology currently in use. GPS will soon replace radar in the primary surveillance method, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) already utilize GPS technology in a broad variety of surveillance, navigation, safety, and efficiency applications.
"Today's hearing brought focus on the importance of the Global Positioning System to aviation and the broader economy. Witnesses' testimony further underscored the vital nature of GPS as an element of transportation infrastructure, ensuring the safe and efficient use of the aviation system," said Chariman Petri.
GPS is at the center of FAA's Next Gen air traffic control modernization program, which will optimize air traffic controller performance, consolidate obsolete facilities, enhance safety improvements, and improve operational efficiency of the national airspace system. The Honorable John Porcari, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, testified to the benefits of NextGen this morning: "The FAA and industry have invested as much as $8 billion into NextGen. The FAA conservatively estimates that the benefits of NextGen will total $23 billion by 2018 and over $120 billion by 2030."
Porcari added, "In addition to the transportation applications I mentioned, GPS is essential for the operations of first responders, search and rescue, resource management, weather tracking and prediction, earthquake monitoring, national security, and critical infrastructure such as dams and power plants, financial transactions, surveying and mapping, and industries such as precision agriculture, where the ability to fertilize plants with centimeter-level accuracy increases conservation, reduces waste run-off, and saves American farmers up to $14-30 billion, annually."
As important to aviation safety and efficiency as GPS is, and as far a reach as the GPS system has in the economy, the system is vulnerable to interference due to a relatively weak signal broadcast from space. Since current aviation operations, as well as NextGen, are dependent on GPS, some in the aviation community have pointed to potential negative impacts GPS interference may have on aviation safety, air traffic control modernization, and job creation within the aviation industry.
"Efforts must be made to ensure aviation safety and efficiency benefits made possible by GPS are preserved," said Chairman Petri. "I was pleased to hear Deputy Secretary Porcari's announcement this morning of the proactive plan the Department will pursue to protect GPS safety and efficiency benefits. We will work with the aviation community, the Department of Transportation, and our colleagues to find the best path forward to achieve that goal."
At the hearing, Deputy Secretary Porcari stated: "We propose to work with [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] to draft new GPS spectrum interference standards that will help inform future proposals for non-space, commercial uses in the bands adjacent to the GPS signals, to strengthen existing national policy protection of adjacent band spectrum.
Porcari continued, "We will ensure that any such proposals are clearly communicated with stakeholders and are implemented without affecting existing and evolving uses of space-based PNT services vital to economic, public safety, scientific, and national security needs."