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Aviation and GPS

GPS has revolutionized aviation safety and continues to do so as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implements the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as "NextGen."

Integrated into more than 190,000 General Aviation aircraft, GPS is included in more than 80 percent of the U.S. fleet. For the majority of these aircraft, GPS is the primary means of navigation. And it's not just General Aviation — GPS is used in almost 80 percent of air carriers' planes, nearly all military planes and in most foreign aircraft that enter U.S. airspace.

GPS provides pilots with a reliable and accurate navigation source. It provides them with the ability to fly point-to-point instead of following ground-based radio navigation that require longer flight paths between airports.


When paired with map details, GPS give pilots the ability to immediately orient their aircraft relative to their flight path, terrain, obstacles and weather. This significant safety advancement reduces pilot workload and frees them to concentrate on flying the airplane rather than working to stay oriented. GPS is crucial during in-flight emergencies as well, when immediate navigation to the closest airport is needed.

The use of GPS in advanced Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems (TAWS) has been one of the most significant improvements to aviation safety in recent history. According to the FAA, from 2006 to 2011, fatal controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) accidents in General Aviation and non-scheduled air carrier operations decreased 44 percent from the preceding five years; fatal approach-and-landing accidents and all fatal nighttime accidents decreased by 30 percent. For U.S. airliners, the use of GPS-enabled TAWS systems has completely eliminated CFIT accidents.

GPS also allows planes to land safely, requiring substantially less ground infrastructure than approaches relying on ground-based navigation systems — increasing the number of airports with instrument approaches while simultaneously reducing costs.

When enhanced by the FAA's Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), GPS provides both horizontal and vertical guidance that stabilizes approaches to a safe landing. GPS is the only instrument approach possible at many locations, with more than 900 of the roughly 3,000 airports and heliports in the United States and its territories having only GPS-based approaches.

In short, the benefits from GPS to aviation safety and efficiency are boundless. So too are the economic and environmental benefits: GPS shortens flight paths, reduces fuel burn, lowers costs and creates a smaller carbon footprint.

Recognizing the extensive benefits GPS brings to aviation, the FAA is in the process of implementing NextGen, a complete overhaul of the National Airspace System that uses airborne GPS to modernize Air Traffic Control and meet expanded air traffic capacity. It replaces radar with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which uses GPS to measure exact aircraft location information and broadcast it to other aircraft in the vicinity and to Air Traffic Control Centers on the ground.

Aviation is crucial to our nation's economy. As recently as 2009, civil aviation contributed $1.3 trillion annually to the national economy, and constituted 5.2 percent of the gross domestic product. It generated more than 10 million jobs, with earnings of $397 billion. The General Aviation sector alone adds at least $150 billion to the U.S. economy annually, supports over 1.2 million jobs, and provides crucial air services to every community in the United States.

The FAA estimates the cumulative benefits of NextGen to be $23 billion through 2018; by 2030, the cumulative benefits grow to $123 billion and reduce CO2 emissions by 64 million tons.

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