When posed the question “If solar flares cause extended GPS outages, do you feel you will be affected?” TigerNews visitors said overwhelmingly “No, I don’t use a navigation system.”

This was kind of a trick question, because it is possible that we will all be affected by a widespread GPS outage. Many more things than your car’s navigation system utilize GPS for a variety of reasons – including cellular telephone networks, traffic signals and more – including OnStar service, carrier tracking systems – and surely much, much more.

According to New Scientist Tech, “This may be a problem for aircraft navigation as the FAA uses reference GPS receivers on the ground for air traffic control. Kintner says these “will certainly fail” during these intense solar flare radio bursts, which could produce noise drowning out signals. Although planes can fly without GPS, outages force the FAA to increase the distance between aircraft and slow take-offs and landings, delaying flights.

GPS is also used for emergency rescues and also to synchronise power grids and cellphone networks. One solution, says Kintner, would be to increase the strength of GPS signals. But this would mean redesigning GPS satellite hardware and software

Cerruti presented details of the problem at a meeting of the Institute of Navigation on 28 September. Details will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Space Weather.”

According to our respondents, 53% said they would not be affected as they do not use a navigation system, 24% said they would definitely be affected, 18% felt they would not be affected, and 6% said “Yes! No Navigation system? I’m lost!” [results as of 4/20/07]

Parent’s using devices to provide tracking of their children or elderly family members may be distraught without these devices for the period of time this blackout may occur. While cellular service is likely to not suffer any outages, advanced features like GPS tracking and ‘friend locator’ services will probably not work during these times. Mobile websites offering location based services will also be unable to provide you with quick and easy directions or the ability to find a local bagel shop on demand, but at least there is always 411.

Take our GPS Survey and see the results