Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dangers to Freight and Passenger Flights In North Korea Airspace

Worries Over GPS Jamming Prompts Response from ICAO
Shipping News Feature
NORTH KOREA – WORLDWIDE – Once again the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has complained to North Korea regarding the jamming of GPS signals which the organisation has said could have potentially disastrous effects. A report emanating from the South stated that five regions in the neighbouring country, Pyongyang, Kumgang, Haeju, Yonan and Kaesong had each sent transmissions likely to disrupt communications or flight navigation between 31 March and 6 April this year.

According to local press reports up to 1,000 aircraft registered in 14 countries had reported disruptions and the ICAO has confirmed to us that a letter expressing ICAO's concerns on this matter, and referencing a past ICAO Council decision on the matter of GPS interference and risks to civil aviation safety, was sent by Council President, Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, to the Director General of the DPRK's General Administration of Civil Aviation in April.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry commented that this action was a ‘much stronger’ response compared to the previous response, and was a reaction to a complaint from Seoul to the ICAO. The ministry also said it will be lodging a similar complaint over North Korea's recent ballistic missile launches, both with the ICAO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). These tests followed both short and medium-range ballistic missile launches in March, with Seoul complaining that such undeclared testing was a danger to civil aviation, and illegal under international agreements.

Jamming signals of the type used by Pyongyang are likely to cause severe disruption to instruments used both by commercial and military aircraft. Use of a readily available commercial jamming device cost a US delivery driver his job in 2013 when he installed one in his truck to obviate the vehicles tracking system. Every time he passed Newark airport the Smartpath satellite-based navigation and precision landing system being tested stopped working. Eventually the offender was caught, sacked from his job and fined almost $32,000.

The risks then to commercial airlines, both freight and passenger is clear, although generally western and middle eastern airlines avoid North Korean airspace, and US flights are banned completely from passing over the country, a study in 2014 by Martyn Williams of San Francisco based North Korea Tech, seems to suggest that certain flights do take a route which briefly crosses the north western coastline and Chinese and Russian aircraft pass regularly through it.

Photo: A shot from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the grand opening of Pyonyang Airport in July 2015 shows thousands gathered at an airport where few flights reportedly land.