Global positioning system GPS jamming on the rise

Incidences of GPS jamming and spoofing appear to be on the rise and continue to threaten the safety of global air operations, a regulator/industry workshop has concluded.

According to the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) there has been an increase in reports from airlines and other civilian pilots that they have been receiving incorrect data corrupting or crashing their navigation systems. Aside from the jamming of signals, in many cases onboard navigation equipment has also been spoofed into giving the incorrect position of the aircraft, sometimes hundreds of miles from where they’re actually flying.

According to reports it started in an airway near contended airspace near the Iraq border but there have also been reports in other conflict areas of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and also over the Arctic. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and IATA held a recent workshop on incidents where people spoofed and jammed satellite navigation systems, and concluded these pose a “significant challenge” to flight safety.

Mitigating the risks posed by such actions will require measures to be enacted in the short term as well as medium and long term timescales, the two bodies said. They want to start by sharing information about the incidents and any potential remedies.

In Europe, this information sharing will take place through the European Occurrence Reporting scheme and EASA’s Data4Safety programme. Given the global nature of the problem, a broader solution would be better, but this would have to be pursued at a later date, EASA added.

Another of the measures suggested involves retaining traditional navigation aids to ensure there is a conventional backup for GNSS navigation, and there are also calls for guidance from aircraft manufacturers to airlines and other aircraft operators to ensure they know how to manage jamming and spoofing situations.

As a further measure, EASA said it will inform all relevant stakeholders, which includes airlines, air navigation service providers, airports and the wider aviation industry, about recorded
incidents.

Interference with global navigation systems can take one of two forms: jamming requires nothing more than transmitting a radio signal strong enough to drown out those from GPS satellites, while spoofing is more insidious and involves transmitting fake signals that fool the receiver into calculating its position incorrectly.

According to EASA, jamming and spoofing incidents have increasingly threatened the integrity of location services across Eastern Europe and the Middle East in recent years.

The finger of suspicion has pointed at Russia in many of these incidents, such as jamming of GPS signals reported by Bulgarian pilots in the Black Sea region last year, and similar incidents reported by Romania.

Bulgarian officials are reported to have said that the problems with GPS date from the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, and are likely attempts by the Russian military to disrupt Ukrainian drone strikes.

Incidents have also occurred beyond the Black Sea, with recent disruptions reported to GPS signals in Poland and the Baltic area as well. These affected aircraft GPS systems, but the aircraft in question were able to fall back onto other navigation aids.

GPS spoofing was also reported in the Middle East, emanating from an unknown source somewhere in the Iran-Iraq area, while EASA also warned last year of an increase in jamming or spoofing in geographical areas surrounding conflict zones, but also in the eastern Mediterranean and Arctic area.

EASA acting executive director Luc Tytgat said the rise in these kinds of attack makes air travel less safe. “We immediately need to ensure that pilots and crews can identify the risks and know how to react and land safely,” he said in a statement.

“In the medium term, we will need to adapt the certification requirements of the navigation and landing systems. For the longer term, we need to ensure we are involved in the design of future satellite navigation systems. Countering this risk is a priority for the Agency,” Tytgat added.

“Airlines are seeing a significant rise in incidents of GNSS interference. To counter this, we need coordinated collection and sharing of GNSS safety data; universal procedural GNSS incident guidance from aircraft manufacturers; a commitment from states to retain traditional navigation systems as backup in cases where GNSS are spoofed or jammed.

“In actioning these items, the support and resources of EASA and other governmental authorities are essential. And airlines will be critical partners. And whatever actions are taken, they must be the focal point of the solution as they are the front line facing the risk,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

Measures agreed by the workshop to make Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services provided by GNSS more resilient, include:

Reporting & sharing of GNSS interference event data

In Europe, this would occur through the European Occurrence Reporting scheme and EASA’s Data4Safety programme. As this is a global problem, EASA says that it is important for a better and complete understanding to join all the information available from reports by connecting the databases such as IATA’s Flight Data Exchange (FDX), or EUROCONTROL’s EVAIR. Guidance from aircraft manufacturers EASA says that this will ensure that aircraft operators are well equipped to manage jamming and spoofing situations, in alignment with EASA’s Safety Information Bulletin (SIB 2022-02 R2).

Alerting

EASA says it will inform the relevant stakeholders (airlines, air navigation service providers (ANSPs), manufacturing industry and airports) about attacks.

Backup

EASA advises that nations must retain a Minimum Operational Network (MON) of traditional navigation aids to ensure that there is a conventional backup for GNSS navigation.

Image accredited to the National Ocean Service / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

Author: FTN Editor

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