India Issues Circular Amid Reports Of Airlines Flying Blind In Middle-East

New Delhi:

Concerned over reports that civilian aircrafts may sometimes be flying blind over parts of the Middle East, the civil aviation regulator DGCA has issued an advisory to all Indian airlines. There have been several reports in recent days that navigation systems of civilian aircrafts are being spoofed when they fly over parts of the Middle East. This is fast emerging as a major safety hazard and the DGCA advisory aims to alert airlines of the nature of the threat and how to respond to it.

“The aviation industry is grappling with uncertainties due to new threats and reports of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) jamming and spoofing,” the circular states.

The report takes note of “increasing reports of GNSS interference over airspace in the Middle East in the recent past” and calls for the development of contingency measures to deal with the jamming of navigation systems. The DGCA has also sought the creation of a threat monitoring and analysis network.

In late September, multiple commercial flights near Iran went off-course after their navigation systems went blind. One of the aircraft, which fell victim to spoofing, ended up almost flying into Iranian airspace without permission.  

According to OpsGroup, a group of professional pilots, flight dispatchers, schedulers, and controllers have flagged the issue.

How Does The Spoofing Work?

The planes flying over parts of the Middle East initially receive a spoofed GPS signal. This signal is aimed at fooling the aircraft’s in-built system into thinking that they are flying miles away from their intended route. The signal is often strong enough to compromise the integrity of the aircraft’s system.

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The result is that within minutes, the inertial reference system (IRS) becomes unstable and in many cases, the plane loses all navigation capability.

Which Are The Areas Of Concern?

The primary area of concern is a busy airway in Northern Iraq and Azerbaijan with several incidents being reported near Erbil.

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By September, 12 separate incidents had been reported with the latest one being reported near Ankara, Turkey on November 20.

Who Is The Culprit?

While no one culprit has been identified, it is believed that jamming and spoofing may be happening because of the deployment of military electronic warfare systems in areas where there is regional tension.

What Does The DGCA Circular Recommend?

The DGCA circular is based on recommendations of the committee for tackling the emerging threat considering the best practices, latest developments, and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidance on the matter.

It provides comprehensive mitigation measures and action plans for aircraft operators, pilots, ANSP, and air traffic controllers which includes the development of contingency procedures in coordination with equipment manufacturers, and the assessment of operational risk by conducting a safety risk assessment.

It also provides a mechanism to establish a threat monitoring and analysis network in close coordination with DGCA for preventive as well as reactive threat monitoring and analysis of reports of GNSS interference to generate valuable insights with data and new developments so as to have robust and immediate threat response.

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