Who would think that truck drivers could impact aviation? But an alarming trend is becoming a problem. Some truck drivers don’t want to be tracked via GPS, and purchase black market GPS-blockers to ensure their employers can’t find out where they are. While these devices are illegal, they are readily available on the black market.
GPS signals from satellites have relatively low power, and can be easily jammed by transmitters that broadcast a signal on the same frequencies. The problem is that not only do they block signals for trucking companies tracking their employees, they can interfere with signals to aircraft.
The last thing a pilot wants to see while shooting a GPS runway approach is the annunciator panel message “GPS signal lost – now in dead reckoning mode” on a system. Loss of navigation must be immediately reported to the FAA under the Federal Air Regulations, and while typically signal loss may only last for 90 seconds at aircraft speeds, if those 90 seconds are on the approach path to a runway in IFR conditions, results could be disastrous.
At KPTK, Oakland Pontiac Airport just north of Detroit, they have a GPS approach for runway 27 left. However, in the approach plates it is noted that the approach is unreliable and not authorized when the control tower is closed. This is because a rogue trucker, who apparently lives within three miles east of the airport and doesn’t want his boss to know that he’s at home with the company truck, intermittently but routinely, uses a GPS blocker that interferes with the approach path GPS guidance.
While jamming of enemy HF radio signals was an integral element of World War II and even the Cold War, we wouldn’t expect frequency jamming to be a problem in the heart of the US during peacetime. But it is.
So far, authorities haven’t been able to locate the rogue trucker and stop the GPS interference that is compromising local aviation safety. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been a subject of importance to the local mainstream news media, even though this problem can be more serious than the pointing of lasers at airplanes, and could result in a fatal accident.
The Bottom Line
Imaging flying an approach in poor weather conditions and suddenly losing navigation guidance, while in the clouds and not that far above the ground. Its only a matter of time before a rouge trucker’s actions could result in an critical situation. Unfortunately, it looks like a serious or fatal incident will need to happen before authorities pay real attention to the issue. Where’s the wake-up call?