French CAA warns Russia GPS jamming over Ukraine may affect civil flights

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The French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) raised the alarm on the Russian military jamming of satellite navigation systems around Ukraine.  

Even though no risky in-flight situations have been reported to the authority yet, the DGAC manager of satellite navigation Benoit Roturier told in an interview with French media Usine Nouvelle that a few flight disruption cases were recorded where pilots of commercial aircraft had to deal with alerts on the flight deck while flying around the Black Sea, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and Finland.  

The DGAC considers that the operation of satellite navigation systems is being negatively affected by Russian military trucks which are equipped with specific jamming equipment to protect Russian troops from satellite-guided weapons. However, the French authority said that the purpose of such jamming was not to impair commercial civil planes. 

“That is collateral damage,” said Roturier. “Europe needs to prepare contingency plans for when these satellite systems are lost. […] For some countries closer to the front, who may be less advanced in putting in place contingency plans, the current situation has served to highlight the need. It’s a wake-up call.”  

GPS is the most well-known type of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), which uses satellites to provide highly accurate positioning, navigation, and timing measurements. GNSS is a key technology in the communications, navigation, and surveillance of civil aircraft, which is used in all phases of flight.  

The jamming of such a system could force the plane to re-route or even divert as it would lose the ability to perform certain landing procedures safely. The loss of GNSS data could also affect aircraft terrain avoidance and wind shear alerting systems. 

However, according to Roturier, a jammed aircraft can continue navigating using its inertial systems, although they provide less accurate data. 

The DGAC is not the first aviation authority to consider the potential risks to civil aviation caused by GNSS jamming. In March 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published a safety information bulletin, in which it warned of an “increased probability of problems” with the GNSS linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

EASA identified four areas where the GNSS jamming intensified since February 24, 2022, the day when Russia started the war against Ukraine: the Kaliningrad region and the Baltic Sea, the eastern part of Finland, the Black Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean area.   

 

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