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GPS Total System Failure - what if?

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  • GPS Total System Failure - what if?

    You might or might not be aware that Solar Cycle 24 is taking its time peaking, and there's been talk of a massive eruption from the sun that could potentially knock out satellite electronics.

    Worst case scenario is that most or all of the GPS satellites could be affected.

    Question: would modern airliners be flyable if such a GPS failure occurs, i.e. not being able to navigate using GPS at all? Would you feel comfortable flying on that date? Any other related ATC or avionic systems that will be affected?

    Just curious...

  • #2
    Good question. Each aircraft has some rudimentary (and in some cases rather old fashioned) nav aids: windows to look out, a radio so you can ask where you are and a few charts to define your position. And good educated pilots as well.
    And don't worry about the average cardriver who is using a cheap and simple GPS-backed nav aid in his car. Or the phone users. And don't forget the TV satellite receivers (uuuuhhh.... worst case...!). Okay, it's gonna be off-topic. Sorry.

    get FRA spotting informations here:


    • #3
      The majority of Boeing 767s I fly are not fitted with GPS, so not a problem.

      The navigational performance of many modern aircraft would be affected, but not to the detriment of safety.

      Aircraft planning to fly approaches to low RNP values would be aware that the flare had occurred and opt for a 'traditional' approach instead.

      Enroute aircraft would revert to IRS navigation in conjunction with normal ground based navaid updating/tracking.

      The biggest danger in all of it would be swerving lost drivers in the world's major cities!


      • #4
        Just to back up what AJ has said - the vast majority of the world's navigation is NOT predicated on GPS. GPS is available on many aircraft, and assists, but is not the be all and end all of navigation.

        Some operations are predicated on its use, however they are few and far between, and there are usually alternative options available.

        The biggest threat coming from a GPS outage is in fact the TIME element... not the navigation solution itself. Emergency services' computers, banks, and a myriad of other major industries are heavily reliant on the GPS time signal, and would suffer far worse than aviation if it were ever to be lost.

        If the GPS network goes down... dont' have a heart attack, because you might not get an ambulance! Likewise, don't expect to be able to get any money out of the ATM. Aviation will seem like the only sensible activity


        • #5
          It makes me smile when I think of todays reliance on GPS for road use. Some of my newer colleagues on the ambualnce service are wondering what they'll do if the GPS link from our data screen goes down.
          Me ? ....... I'll just go back to what I was doing 30 years ago....

 a map book !!
          If it 'ain't broken........ Don't try to mend it !


          • #6
            Then I'd use VORs, NDBs, or dead reckoning. But really, don't be taking my magenta line away. That leads to work.