formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31, 2011 The 4G Network

The Liberty Gazette
May 31, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely


Mike: Often people ask us how a pilot knows things like how to land at an airport without a tower, and conditions in the air or on the ground that might affect our flight. Pilots are charged with the full responsibility of knowing “all available information” that affects their flight – all of it. So we have various ways of checking weather, temporary flight restrictions, closed runways, and much more. The Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system provides a substantial amount of information necessary for pilots, but a current NOTAM that has been heavily in the aviation news of late concerns everyone, not just pilots.

That NOTAM regards some testing being done and states, “Airspace Global Positioning System is unreliable and may be unavailable within a radius of 175nm (of the GPS location, this one Las Vegas) from the surface to 40,000 feet and above. Pilots within a 175 nautical mile radius of the Las Vegas area are highly encouraged to report anomalies to the GPS signal during this test, 0700-1300 daily.”

So what’s going on? Well, it’s Washington. One government agency is at odds with another. Backed by the White House, the FCC recently issued a conditional waiver to a company called LightSquared allowing them to build and test a new wi-fi cell phone network transmitting on a radio band that is likely to interfere with the signals received from the GPS satellite network used for navigation and communications by aircraft, ships, the military, and even the GPS unit in your car. This is the “4G” network being promoted by cell phone companies; and interference with aircraft navigation has already been reported. The 3G network does not interfere with the GPS signals because it uses different technology and radio bands.

The waiver given to LightSquared has industry members and government officials leery of this “highly unusual” FCC action; and the steamrollering is fully supported by the White House.

Linda: GPS was developed by the military to enable aircraft to be guided without the need for ground based navigational aids. They own it but they have made it available to the civilian world. Russia, the European Union and even China have launched their own satellites into space. All these systems have the potential for being affected by one or more of the 40,000 planned antennas of this new 4G network. If the proposed wireless network is proven to cause interference and then allowed to continue development, small airports like Liberty’s would no longer have instrument approaches available for pilots to land during bad weather.

Politics are a devilish thing (that matches my opinion of most politicians) but a guy named Mike Turner who chairs the House Armed Services Committee on Strategic Forces has criticized the FCC for issuing this waiver. He told them that when it comes to GPS, they must consult with the Defense Department on any effects, and he included a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act soon to be voted on that “Congress be notified of any widespread interference to GPS caused by a commercial communications service.” How would you like to be on an airliner that suddenly loses all navigation, and is in the clouds, zero visibility, on an instrument approach? They’re playing with people’s lives and it is our hope that wisdom will prevail and keep our skies, our national defense, and our way of life safe from those driven to control and destruct.

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