FAA Warning: Serious Navigation Failures

Since publishing Monday’s risk warning on complex navigation failures following fake GPS signals, we have received further concerning reports from operators, mirroring the same events. The impact of the nav failures is becoming clearer, with one operator almost entering Iranian airspace without clearance, and another left requiring ATC vectors all the way to their destination in Doha. In total, we now have 20 reports of almost identical situations. Full reports are in Version 2 of our Risk Warning (PDF), see further down. On Wednesday evening, the FAA issued a warning memo to aircraft operators as a result of the situation, warning of increased “safety of flight risk to civil aviation operations”.

Embraer Legacy 650: We nearly entered Iran airspace with no clearance
One of the new reports received since Monday was from an Embraer 650 crew en route from Europe to Dubai. They tell us, “In Baghdad airspace, we lost both GPS in the aircraft and on both iPads. Further, the IRS didn’t work anymore. We only realized there was an issue because the autopilot started turning to the left and right, so it was obvious that something was wrong. After a couple of minutes, we got error messages on our FMS regarding GPS, etc. So we had to request radar vectors. We were showing about 80 nm off track. During the event, we nearly entered Iran airspace (OIIX/Tehran FIR) with no clearance.

Challenger 604: Required vectors all the way to Doha
Another new crew report received since our first warning informs us: “Nearing north of Baghdad something happened where we must have been spoofed. We lost anything related to Nav and the IRS suggested we had drifted by 70-90 miles. We had a ground speed of zero and the aircraft calculated 250kts of wind. The FMSs reverted to DR (Dead Reckoning) and had no idea where they were.

We initially took vectors to get around the corner at SISIN. Nav capability was never restored, so we required vectors all the way from Iraq to Doha for an ILS. We never got our GPS sensors back until we fired up the plane and went back to home base two days later.

Concern grows over flight risk
With these additional reports, OPSGROUP has increased concerns over the situation:

  • Security risk: Navigation failures are occurring in close proximity to the Iranian border. One aircraft reported almost straying into Iranian airspace (Tehran FIR, OIIX) without a clearance. This area of the border is considered sensitive by Iran: there are two large missile bases just across the boundary: one at Kermansah (a huge facility with dedicated anti-aircraft weapons), and another at Khorramabad. For context, Iran shot down a passenger aircraft in 2020 in Tehran (accidentally), and has been heard in September 2023 issuing warnings on 121.5 with threats to shoot down aircraft entering the FIR without a clearance.
  • The Navigation failures are severe. The second report above highlights how the crew had no option but to request radar vectors – all the way to their final destination. In many other reports, most aircraft have no reliable onboard navigation, for periods of 20-30 minutes and in some cases an hour or more.
  • Compounding failures. Individually these incidents can mostly be resolved with the help of ATC. Consider, however, an ATC comms failure, ATC radar failure, or an emergency situation: engine failure, decompression, or even a medical divert. The workload would quickly become extreme, and diverting at night (when most flights are transiting the area) without basic navigation capability is not a scenario we want to deal with.
  • Inadequate guidance for crews: Current FCOM/AOM procedures available to aircrew are insufficient to capably deal with this new GPS spoofing issue. Having been shown to be possible, there is potential for it to occur elsewhere in the world.

FAA Warning Issued:
On Wednesday evening, the FAA released a memo for aircraft operators titled “Iraq/Azerbaijan – GPS Jamming and Spoofing Poses Safety Risk“.”
The memo advised that “Potential spoofing activities reported by various civil air operators in Iraq and Azerbaijan pose a safety of flight risk to civil aviation operations in the Baghdad (ORBB) and Baku (UBBA) Flight Information Regions (FIR).”
“The recent opensource reporting regarding spoofing incidents, if confirmed, would pose increased safety of flight risks, due to potential loss of aircraft situational awareness and increased pilot and regional air traffic control (ATC) workload issues, which can lead to potential accidents and/or loss of life.”
“FAA recommends that U.S. civil air operators transiting ORBB and UBBA monitor regional NOTAMs, put additional emphasis on maintaining continuous communications with appropriate air traffic control authorities while monitoring aircraft equipment performance closely for any discrepancies or anomalies, and to be prepared to operate without GPS navigational systems.”

Source: ‚OPS Group‚.

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