In aviation, we tend to consider our use of GPS one of the more important applications of the technology, especially when compared to, say, drivers on downtown shopping expeditions. And, of course, it is. But a November report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) points out that aviation is but one GPS user element of the nation’s transportation sector, which includes air, surface and marine modes; and the transportation sector is in turn just one of 16 discrete sectors, which include telecommunications, power grids and other utilities, that are identified as critical to the U.S. economy, security and health, which are collectively referred to as our “critical infrastructure sectors.”Today, most of the 16 sectors use GPS extensively and many of them have grown almost completely dependent on the technology as GPS-supported applications have become increasingly embedded in their operations. Aviation hasn’t reached that point yet–traditionally, we have always demanded dissimilar backups–but it will certainly draw closer to it in the future. In fact, FAA officials advised the GAO that legacy air navigation systems currently planned to be used during GPS disruptions may not be capable of supporting future NextGen capabilities, and that the agency is studying alternative GPS backups against possible decisions in 2016.
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