LightSquared Would Ruin Aviation With System, Carriers Say

Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless service would have “ruinous effects” on aviation because of signal interference and its plan for a nationwide data network should be withdrawn, an airline trade group said.

“This matter needs to be put to rest,” Thomas Hendricks, senior vice president at Airlines for America, said today in written testimony submitted for a U.S. House hearing.

LightSquared has sought final FCC clearance for its network since late 2010 against opposition from makers and users of global-positioning system devices including airlines that say the service would disrupt navigation gear in cars, tractors and planes in the U.S.

Signals from the proposed service disrupt many GPS receivers and no practical solution exists to let Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared operate soon, U.S. officials said Jan. 13 after nine months of tests.

LightSquared says GPS device makers should have planned to accommodate its use of airwaves near those occupied by navigation equipment. The company, which plans a wholesale high-speed data service covering 260 million people, said the airline group relies too much on information supplied by makers of GPS equipment.

Industry Data

“Their information is provided by the GPS industry,” Terry Neal, a LightSquared spokesman, said in an interview. “It would not be surprising since the government relied on the GPS industry to devise the tests and conduct them in secret using a standard that does not reflect real-life conditions.”

Asked whether LightSquared would withdraw its application, Neal replied: “That’s absurd.”

Members of the Washington-based Airlines for America, formerly known as the Air Transport Association, include Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, US Airways Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., parent of United Airlines.

Today’s hearing was called by the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

LightSquared’s request to testify was denied, and it was unfair to have “only one point of view represented,” Lew Phelps, a spokesman for Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners, said in an e-mail.

‘Their Opinion’

LightSquared has testified before the panel before and “if they’d like to testify again we’d be happy to see if we can arrange an appropriate forum,” Representative Thomas Petri, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said in an interview. The assertion of unfairness is “their opinion,” Petri said. “It’s not mine.”

Harbinger Capital has been forced to write down the value of its $3 billion investment in LightSquared.

LightSquared has offered technical solutions to solve the interference with aviation receivers, Jeffrey Carlisle, an executive vice president with the company, said in an interview.

The company’s proposed solutions don’t answer “fundamental questions of incompatibility,” John Porcari, a deputy secretary at the Transportation Department, said in an interview today.

Two independent laboratories reviewed and confirmed U.S. tests of LightSquared that cost the government more than $2 million, Porcari said in testimony.

“The results, especially with precision safety flight avionics that we use in aircraft, are unacceptable,” he said.

The hearing was called to review issues arising as U.S. aviation transitions to rely on GPS signals for navigation.

Newark Airport

Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, said he was “troubled” that a ground-based network such as the one LightSquared plans has the potential for interfering with GPS.

“It seems to me we’re creating a vulnerable system,” Farenthold said.

Tests of a GPS-based landing system at Newark Liberty International Airport in 2010 demonstrated that the weak satellite signal can be knocked out by interference, according to a committee briefing paper prepared for the hearing.

The landing system, which guided planes to the runway with GPS navigation instead of the radio beams typically used at airports, experienced intermittent failures during tests, the report said.

An investigation revealed that a truck driver who had been using a jamming device to disable a GPS locator on his company’s truck had been driving past the airport on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Federal Communications Commission filed an enforcement case against the driver, according to the committee. Radio jamming devices are illegal under U.S. law.

“However, such devices are available and risk both intentional and unintentional consequences of GPS operations,” the report said.

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