46K Planes Got 'Jammed,' and Officials Have a Suspect

Report says Russia may be behind GPS interference over Baltic Sea since last August
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2024 8:12 AM CDT
Russia Suspected of Jamming 46K Flights Over Europe
A Ryanair plane takes off from Budapest, Hungary, on June 12, 2022.   (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi, File)

Planes flying in and out of Europe, especially the eastern part of the continent near Russia, have seen their GPS signals jammed over the past year or so, and now there's a suspect: Russia. Citing an analysis by the Sun, which looked at flight logs from GPSJAM.org, the Guardian reports that 46,000 planes since last August have reported GPS issues while cruising over the Baltic Sea. Quartz notes that although "aviation officials don't believe Russia is purposely targeting foreign civilian aircraft, the interference still poses a safety risk." GPS jamming can take various forms, including "spoofing" the plane's crew to think that they're in a different location than they're actually in, or relaying erroneous information on flight speed or altitude.

Newsweek reports that the jammers have been traced back to Russia's Kaliningrad region, a territory nestled between Poland and Lithuania. The UK government verified last month that a Royal Air Force aircraft with the nation's defense secretary, Grant Shapps, aboard saw its GPS signal jammed as it flew Shapps from Poland back to the UK. The Kyiv Independent notes that the plane's signal was mucked up for about 30 minutes as it flew near Kaliningrad, in what Downing Street called a "wildly irresponsible" move, though it stressed the plane had never been in danger. The Times of London notes that the new data only indicates GPS interference, which could also come from solar flares and even skyscrapers.

However, GPSJAM.org notes that "areas where a significant percentage of aircraft report low navigation accuracy seem to correlate well with areas of known and suspected jamming." Officials are now working to ease travelers' minds over the incidents. "GPS jamming does not directly impact the navigation of an aircraft, and while it is a known issue, this does not mean an aircraft has been jammed deliberately," Glenn Bradley, the head of flight operations at the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, tells the Guardian. Reps for multiple airlines concur, telling the paper that even if their system's GPS gets jammed, there are other location/navigation systems in place that can safely guide the plane. (More Russia stories.)

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