According to a new report citing a French aviation official, Russia’s military is jamming airline satellite navigation near the Black Sea, eastern Finland and Kaliningrad, a small Russian province along the Baltic Sea located between Lithuania and Poland.
The satellite navigation disruption is being caused by Russian trucks with jamming equipment meant to defend Russian troops from GPS-guided munitions, Benoit Roturier, satellite navigation head of France’s civil aviation authority DGAC, told Bloomberg.
“I don’t think the goal is to jam civil aviation at this stage,” he said. “That is collateral damage.”
In addition to Kaliningrad, eastern Finland and the Black Sea, GPS disruptions have also been reported in the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Northern Iraq, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
On March 17, EASA published a safety information bulletin warning pilots that spoofing and/or jamming had intensified in the four geographical areas due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The effects of [Global Navigation Satellite System] GNSS jamming and/or possible spoofing were observed by aircraft in various phases of their flights, in certain cases leading to rerouting or even to change the destination due to the inability to perform a safe landing procedure,” EASA said in a safety information bulletin.
“Under the present conditions, it is not possible to predict GNSS outages and their effects. The magnitude of the issues generated by such outage would depend upon the extent of the area concerned, on the duration and on the phase of flight of the affected aircraft.”
Some of the potential issues that have occurred due to the jamming include:
- Loss of ability to use GNSS for waypoint navigation
- Loss of area navigation (RNAV) approach capability
- Inability to conduct or maintain Required Navigation Performance (RNP) operations, including RNP and RNP (Authorization Required) approaches
- Triggering of terrain warnings, possibly with pull up commands
- Inconsistent aircraft position on the navigation display;
- Loss of automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), wind shear, terrain and surface functionalities
- Failure or degradation of air traffic management (ATM), air navigation services (ANS) and communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) and aircraft systems which use GNSS as a time reference
- Potential airspace infringements and/or route deviations due to GNSS degradation.
Last month, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom warned pilots of GPS signal interference along Finland’s eastern border with Russia.
The transportation agency said at the time it did not know what was causing the interference, which is difficult to detect on the ground or verify because of the relatively short durations of interference.
Fintraffic Air Navigation Services Ltd. issued a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) informing pilots of the issue and instructing them to use traditional approach systems that do not require a GPS signal for flying the final approach. Airlines were also told to make their own decisions about whether or not to fly in the region.
While the jamming can be a distraction for pilots, airlines have procedures in place for when GPS signals are lost. The ability to deal with such a disruption, however, can vary due to aircraft size. While some aircraft are able to use inertial reference system (IRS) to fix the airplane’s position as a workaround for GPS, it’s a system not common on smaller aircraft, according to Mentourpilot.com.
The jamming is a wake-up call, Roturier told Bloomberg.
“All of Europe needs to prepare contingency plans for when these satellite systems are lost,” Roturier said. “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.”
Air operators, including helicopter operators, should:
a) Ensure that flight crews promptly report via air report to air traffic control any observed interruption, degradation or anomalous performance of GNSS equipment (jamming and/or possible spoofing) or related avionics;
b) Assess operational risks and limitations linked to the loss of on-board GNSS capability, including other on-board systems requiring inputs from reliable GNSS signal;
c) Ensure that operational limitations, introduced by the dispatch of aircraft with radio navigation system inoperative in accordance with Minimum Equipment List, are considered before operating an aircraft in the affected areas;
d) Ensure flight crews and relevant flight operation personnel:
1. are aware of possible GNSS jamming and/or possible spoofing; verify the aircraft position by means of conventional navigation aids when flights are operated in proximity of the affected areas;
2. check that the navigation aids critical to the operation for the intended route and approach are available; and
3. remain prepared to revert to a conventional arrival procedure where appropriate and inform air traffic controllers in such a case;
e) Ensure, in the flight planning and execution phase, the availability of alternative conventional arrival and approach procedures (i.e. an aerodrome in the affected area with only GNSS approach procedure should not be considered as destination or alternate).