The Global Navigation Satellite System


The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is a collection of satellites that transmit positioning data to receivers. Receivers take this information and use it to determine location. While use of the GNSS is a daily occurrence for many aviators, its introduction to the public sphere is relatively recent, having only been introduced in the last few decades. However, the aviation industry realized the great potential of GNSS for safety and efficiency long before its introduction.

Despite that, before global acceptance and implementation, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) governments would have to approve its widespread use. The first step was for ICAO to adopt operational standards for the function of GNSS, which happened in 2001. With this, GNSS use in civil aviation could begin.

Still, after dealing with the “red tape” that goes along with major institutional changes like this, technical challenges still remained. GPS Navigation Systems and GLONASS, the primary satellite location systems in the U.S. and Russia, were not designed for the purpose of aviation safety. Because of this, assessments had to be made to ensure that GNSS was a viable and safe navigation tool. These analyses were conducted over a period of several years in the 1990s and resulted in the genesis of ICAO standards for aviation-specific augmentation systems that would benefit simple navigation services.

Nearly twenty years after ICAO’s acceptance of the GNSS, it remains in wide use. It has been embraced across the world by aviation enthusiasts. Still evolving, the GNSS will soon be improved once more. Galileo and BeiDou, the respective European and Chinese satellite systems, are nearing their completion and will markedly increase the number of GNSS satellites in orbit, thereby also increasing the system’s performance. Despite its youth, the GNSS has played a huge role in civil aviation, a role that will only continue to grow.

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