Why Commercial and Private Jets Need GPS Backups

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, has become the lifeline for commuters and travelers today. But navigation systems aren’t only for the roads—pilots of commercial and private jets need as much guidance with directions as those on the ground.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are satellite constellations that provide position, navigation, and timing (PNT)-related information to travelers. While the GPS we use for on-road navigation is a part of GNSS, the latter is a much broader term, and it plays an indispensable role in aviation. For aircraft, navigation is associated with GPS as well as Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which provide pilots with information on thousands of runway ends, helping them land safely and efficiently.

Recently, a study by London Economics investigated the importance of backup systems to GPS and GNSS, and the results are significant for air travel safety.

Effects of GPS disruptions on aviation

An earlier research paper by London Economics had demonstrated the massive adverse effects that GPS disruptions can have on aviation. For starters, flights can be significantly delayed, as pilots lose the advantage of a reliable navigation system guiding them to land efficiently.

Moreover, traveling without GPS support can increase instances of Controlled Flight into Terrain, a phenomenon in which a flight under complete pilot control is inadvertently flown into the ground, a mountain, or a water body. So, it becomes a major safety threat for pilots, crew members, and passengers on board.

These navigation systems are also incredibly useful during turbulent weather conditions, when runways may not be clearly visible, which can increase the risk of accidents.

Why is a Backup System Necessary on Commercial and Private Jet?

A more recent study by London Economics analyzed case studies from Denver and Dallas Fort Worth airports, where flights experienced GPS disruptions but could reduce the impact significantly because of backup systems at the airports.

Backups can also prevent major issues with flight schedules in large commercial airports. For example, if there were no backup in Denver and Dallas Fort Worth airports, it could have not only compromised safety but also led to major flight delays. Such delays can cause passenger dissatisfaction and inefficiency of the aviation sector in the long run.

The paper warns that if these disruptions are longer or more widespread, the impact of limited backup systems can cause a major impact on aviation. So, it strongly recommends a review of initiatives by the United States and Europe to reduce the number of backups.

In India, GAGAN Satnav has been introduced as a backup system for pilots to rely on when the ground-based high-precision instrument landing system (ILS) fails to work. This system also works well when the view is obstructed for pilots because of fog or bad weather conditions. Top commercial airlines have now made their flights compatible with GAGAN—a commendable move to ensure safety and passenger convenience.

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