Transatlantic flight disrupted by GPS jamming incident, first time in history

A plane flying from Madrid to Toronto could not ascend to a higher altitude, reportedly due to GPS jamming.

On June 19th, an open-source intelligence analyst posted on X about an incident, when a transatlantic flight has been affected by GPS jamming.

Shanwick Oceanic Control, an air traffic control center overseeing the international airspace zone in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean between the west coast of Scotland and Ireland and the southwestern coast of Iceland, reported that a flight from Madrid, Spain, to Toronto, Canada, was unable to ascend to a higher altitude due to "apparent GPS jamming" affecting other aircraft at that altitude.

The ATC communications indicated that GPS jamming forced aircraft operating at higher altitudes on the Madrid-Toronto route to function in a "degraded mode." The ATC dispatcher responded that this is the first instance of GPS jamming along Atlantic routes that they are aware of.

While GPS interference does not pose an immediate danger to planes due to the presence of backup navigation systems, it does present a broader safety risk, the Institute for the Study of War said in a response to the incident.

A non-profit explains that there is no air traffic radar coverage over the Atlantic, so GPS-based ADS-B transponders play a critical role. These devices are instrumental in tracking aircraft positions and maintaining safe distances to avert collisions.

In the event of GPS signal failure or interference, standard safety protocols mandate wider separations between aircraft. This precautionary measure inevitably translates into reduced route capacity.

Resilient Timing and Navigation Foundation (RNTF) a nonprofit advocating for improved GPS security, responded to the incident on June 19th, that if GPS jamming becomes a regular occurrence over the busy airspace above the Atlantic Ocean, then "thousands of flights a day could be impacted with delays and cancellations."

Common tactics used by Russia

GPS jamming is quite common in the Nordic and Baltic regions of Europe. Russia is suspected of being behind it. In March, the plane carrying the UK’s defense secretary experienced GPS problems near the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

Reportedly, the Nordic countries bordering Russia have been experiencing GPS jamming almost daily. According to the Norwegian Communication Authority, the reports started to spike as Moscow launched its full-scale war on Ukraine.

Also, Russia is known to use electronic warfare tactics in Ukraine.

Affecting “Find My” location trackers, dating apps, and food delivery

Forbes reported on June 20th, that in Cyprus, signal jammers actively affected residents.

Since March, residents of southern Cyprus have reported that their phones and other location-tracking devices have malfunctioned multiple times a day, often showing their location as Beirut’s airport.

Airline pilots and ship captains navigating around Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean have faced similar issues with their navigation devices, which have been receiving signals broadcasting false locations since the start of the war in Gaza.

This problem has extended to people across Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and now Cyprus. It affects maps, food delivery, and dating apps by randomly resetting locations to Beirut Airport.