A GPS 3 satellite rendition. Ligado's spectrum sits near frequencies used by GPS technology. Credit: Lockheed Martin

TAMPA, Fla. — Iridium Communications and private sector groups worried Ligado’s proposed terrestrial network would interfere with GPS are backing efforts to throw out the company’s lawsuit against the U.S. government.

The Air Line Pilots Association, Airlines for America, and the International Air Transport Association joined Iridium in a legal filing to the Court of Federal Claims Feb. 9, detailing their support for the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks $40 billion from the government and a handful of federal agencies, which Ligado argues derailed its efforts to use assigned L-band spectrum for 5G services through misinformation over the potential for GPS interference. 

Ligado got Federal Communications Commission permission in 2020 to deploy the network but paused the plans two years later, after a review by the congressionally-mandated National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said it would likely interfere with some GPS signals and Iridium’s L-band connectivity services.

In addition to the United States, Ligado is suing the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in legal action filed in October.

“First, contrary to a central tenet of Ligado’s complaint, the concerns about harmful interference arising from Ligado’s planned terrestrial operations are real and ongoing, not pretextual or resolved,” Iridium and others said in the Feb. 9 court filing.

The private sector organizations also support the government’s position that Ligado could not claim property rights for an FCC license that is intangible, which they said was highlighted by how the permit faces contingencies that include petitions to reconsider its approval.

Iridium’s aircraft-tracking affiliate Aireon is also part of the group that filed the so-called Amicus brief, a statement sent to a court for use in legal proceedings — if approved — from parties not directly involved in the legal action.

Each party behind the Amicus brief has also backed a petition filed with the FCC in 2020 to reconsider Ligado’s terrestrial network approval.

Over nearly two decades of administrative proceedings, the Amicus brief said more than 11,800 filings have been made to show how Ligado’s planned terrestrial network would cause harmful interference.

“If the court fails to recognize this overwhelming record, it’ll inject more uncertainty into the operations of critical communications services using nearby spectrum to provide GPS, satellite communications, and weather forecasting services,” said the Satellite Safety Alliance lobby group.

Ligado said it stands by its original complaint, adding that the FCC unanimously authorized the company to operate terrestrial 5G following a rigorous, multiyear process. 

“That April 2020 decision is final,” a Ligado spokesperson said via email.

“Iridium is a competitor, with the Defense Department — a defendant in Ligado’s lawsuit — as one of its largest sources of revenue. Iridium is using its proposed participation [in the legal proceedings] to support a primary customer, shield itself from discovery, and benefit from the government’s taking of our property.”

The spokesperson said Ligado intends to oppose Iridium’s request to intervene in the proceedings.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...