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While looking over a tutorial on how to operate the Garmin GNS430, I couldn't find any info on how the device would report a degraded or low accuracy signal. What are the accuracy requirements for aviation GPS navigation systems and how are they required to alert a user in the case of a reduced accuracy situation?

I'm not specifically asking about RAIM here, as I believe that is mostly designed to identify a malfunctioning satellite or compromised signal. An example scenario would be some atmospheric condition that reduces positional accuracy to 1/4 mile or less.

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The required GPS accuracy depends mainly on the application. En-route requirements are more lenient than the accuracy requirements for non precision approaches.

The GPS accuracy is the result of inaccuracies in the signal combined with a factor based on the geometry of the satellites. Within the receiver the position error is thus estimated by looking at

  1. The geometry of the satellites contributing to the position fix
  2. The estimated user equivalent ranging error (UERE) caused by various disturbances

From the geometry of the satellites, the (Geometric) Dilution of Precision (DOP) is calculated. This is a number that expresses how the geometry of the satellites used to calculate the position influences the accuracy of the position solution. In an ideal situation, $DOP=1$, any value less than $4$ is considered good.

Simple illustration of DOP (a) good DOP smallest possible area of uncertainty, (b) degraded DOP, larger area of uncertainty

The DOP can be split up in three components, the horizontal (HDOP), the vertical (VDOP) and the time (TDOP). For horizontal position accuracy HDOP is used.

The second factor in the accuracy estimation is the User Equivalent Ranging Error (UERE). In the illustration above, this is the width of ranging bands. UERE is composed of various factors:

  1. Ephemeris data - Errors in the transmitted location of the satellite
  2. Satellite clock - Errors in the transmitted clock.
  3. Ionosphere - Errors in pseudorange measurements caused by ionospheric effects
  4. Troposphere - Errors in pseudorange measurements caused by tropospheric effects
  5. Multipath - Errors caused by reflected signals entering the receiver antenna
  6. Receiver- Errors in the receiver's measurement of range caused by various internal factors.

The effect of the ephemeris data error is in the order of 2 meters (standard deviation).

The accuracy of the satellite clock used to be intentionally degraded under the Selective Availability programme. SA was turned of in May 2000, drastically improving the GPS accuracy. Receivers developed before that date are unaware of this change and will estimate a worse accuracy than they actually achieve. Selective Availability turned off. The residual clock error after SA was turned of is equivalent to about 2.5 meters (standard deviation).

The GPS signal includes parameters for an ionospheric model which can be used to correct ionospheric effects. The residual error cause by signal delay in the ionosphere is in the order of 5 meter (standard deviation). It is the most significant contribution to the UERE.

Tropospheric effects are much less than the ionospheric effect. The effect is about 0.5 m (standard deviation).

Multipath effects (caused by reflections of signals) are very much depending on the environment. In a city the effects are worse than in the air. For airborne applications multipath can be cause by reflections of the signal from the wings. The effect is very limited. On the airport surface there can be significant effects especially near buildings.

Receiver errors caused by unstable oscillators (thermal noise), quantization and rounding errors, software errors etc. This contribution can be reduced by improving the design of the antenna and receiver; which all comes at cost. Let's estimate the contributions to UERE about 3 meters.

The UERE is the root mean square of all these contributions.

$$UERE=\sqrt{2^2+2.5^2+5^2+0.5^2+1^2+3^2}\approx6.75meters$$

The 95% accuracy is then estimated by $2\times{UERE}\times{HDOP}$. For a HDOP of $2$, the position would be estimated to be within 27 meters 95% of the time. Typical accuracy is better, because the UERE factors are estimated quite conservatively.

Augmentation systems such as WAAS and GBAS can improve the GPS accuracy by sending correction signals. The GNS 430 (without the 'W') does not use these signals.

If the DOP is greater than $4$, the GNS 430 will display a message "Degraded accuracy". You can find the DOP on the Satellite status page. This page also shows the estimated position error.

Note that all the calculations to estimate the position error assume that GPS is working as it should, i.e. a fault free condition. Faults can occur in the satellites, in the transmission of data to the receiver and in the receiver itself. Fault detection is part of the RAIM function.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow.... I'm almost scared to ask, but does any of this change with WAAS? $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 14 '14 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ Using WAAS the UERE will be reduced, and so the accuracy is improved. Also the integrity (fault detection) benefits. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Feb 14 '14 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ Needed to add, the higher you are, the better vertical accuracy you get; meteospheric events influence the refraction significantly, and the refraction mostly influences the vertical measument, not the horizontal one. $\endgroup$ – yo' Feb 15 '14 at 1:46

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