One Of Our Guidance Systems Is Missing

THE LONG-PLANNED Federal Aviation Administration design for a new navigation system got a reality check recently when a Continental Airlines jet lost its navigational signal over Europe.

The aircraft was never in danger because it had a backup land-based radio beacon when a French military exercise jammed the signal from part of the global positioning system (GPS)--24 U.S. satellites serving as guides.

Although it happened a month ago, the incident still has aviation circles abuzz. It's not the first time GPS signals have been interrupted. U.S. aircraft are depending on GPS more and more, and land-based signals are to be retired in 2010. An incident like this one with no backup could be disastrous.

So some manufacturers of satellite-navigation systems want the FAA to approve receivers that can pick up signals from both the usually reliable GPS and Glonass, the Russian equivalent that works on a different frequency. "Augmenting the system with other satellites is good," says Chuck Boesenberg, CEO of Ashtec, a U.S. manufacturer of global positioning equipment. The FAA, however, says that private industry is supposed to come up with standards to test Glonass receivers but has not done so.

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