The Ligado Network’ proposal is drawing heat from the helicopter community. The Helicopter Association International (HAI) addressed their concerns about the Ligado proposal in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), particularly about the interference of GPS during helicopter operations.
The Friday, June 15 letter expressed concern over “a loss of navigational accuracy / reliability” from the Ligado proposal. HAI stated many of their missions occur at lower altitudes and include unmanned – or drone – operations. They also said it might increase the workload of its crew.
According to the HAI letter, the aviation community opposing this proposal dates back seven years. The letter states, “Except for a few individual stakeholders, the aviation industry has overwhelmingly opposed the Ligado proposal, due to safety concerns, since its introduction in 2011.”
Ligado Networks claims their cellular operations will not interfere with GPS. According to FierceWireless, a spokesperson for Ligado made a statement on the situation. The spokesperson said that over two and a half years ago, the company has said it would rely on “expertise” from the United States government to ensure safety in aviation, which includes the FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT).
“After extensive consultations with all stakeholders, both the FAA and DOT have concluded that a power level of 9.8 dBW will protect certified aviation devise even under the most demanding conditions,” the spokesperson said. “We respect the government’s aviation safety experts, which is why we amended our application to adopt their recommended power level.”
Ligado has gone through testing and in May made changes to their pending license. Before this filing in May, the company also met with the FAA and DOT. During these meetings, a safe power level was established. They also looked for the best way to maximize the GPS operation for helicopter pilots.
Additional testing was conducted by Roberson and Associates and the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network. GPS device manufacturers have also stated the Ligado proposal can live in harmony with GPS.
The HAI letter acknowledges that Ligado has adapted their proposal, but states, “The interference to GPA navigation and GPS-dependent systems is stated to be limited to a 500-foot diameter around their transmission towers and, as such, they believe the aviation industry’ concerns have been addressed. The concerns and safety issues of the industry have NOT been addressed.“
HAI states there is a problem with the “lack of testing in key areas.” It cites the United States Department of Transportation Global Positional (GSP) Adjacent Band Compatibility Assessment that was published in April 2018. The publication states, “The FAA has not completed an exhaustive evaluation of the operational scenarios in developing this assessment zone.”
Particularly, it misses testing in “densely populated areas.” According to the publication, there are other variables in these areas including the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones).
Other organizations in the aviation community backed the HAI letter. These signatures include those from Airlines for America, Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference, Air Line Pilots Association International, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the addition of six others.
The current name of the company, Ligado Networks, was adopted on December 7, 2015 – the official start of the company. Previously, the company went by the name Lightsquared, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2012. Its headquarters are located in Reston, Virginia.