Blog Editor’s Note: Perhaps the title of this article should have been “GPS Jamming Set to Crash Passenger Aircraft.”
One thing I learned in Aviation Safety Officer school is that aircraft accidents are not random. If you are paying attention, you can almost always see the indications and warnings well in advance. A host of minor problems, then some close calls. More close calls (called in aviation “near misses”), and then finally, an aircraft is lost and people die.
The problem is that human beings often have difficulty acting to prevent bad things from happening. And for those who try to head off accidents, it is usually difficult to persuade others that the time, effort, and expense is necessary.
Until after a bunch of people are dead. Then it is often a bit easier. But not always.
We knew natural gas leaks were dangerous. But nothing was done to give it an odor until the New London, Texas school exploded. 295 children had to die before we took action.
We knew passengers in automobiles were dying because they were not restrained in crashes. Tens of thousands had to die before we had seat belts and mandatory use.
We knew hardened cockpit doors would help prevent aircraft hijackings. 2,977 people had to die on 9/11 in a direct attack on the nation before better doors were installed.
We know GPS signals are vulnerable and need to be integrated with stronger terrestrial signals. How many will have to die before we do that?
Military tests that jam and spoof GPS signals are an accident waiting to happen
Early one morning last May, a commercial airliner was approaching El Paso International Airport, in West Texas, when a warning popped up in the cockpit: “GPS Position Lost.” The pilot contacted the airline’s operations center and received a report that the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, in South Central New Mexico, was disrupting the GPS signal. “We knew then that it was not an aircraft GPS fault,” the pilot wrote later.
The pilot missed an approach on one runway due to high winds, then came around to try again. “We were forced to Runway 04 with a predawn landing with no access to [an instrument landing] with vertical guidance,” the pilot wrote. “Runway 04…has a high CFIT threat due to the climbing terrain in the local area.”
CFIT stands for “controlled flight into terrain,” and it is exactly as serious as it sounds.