T minus 13 months

The US ADS-B mandate is coming, an immovable deadline looming over airlines, business aviation and general aviation (GA) alike, reports Mark Boguski. 

Billions of dollars are being spent to equip with certified ADS-B equipment to meet the FAA’s January 1, 2020 mandate. Millions of dollars more are being spent educating operators and making them aware of requirements and options for equipage.

After the 2020 date, aircraft won’t be allowed to fly in Class A, Class B, Class C, above Class B and C, within the 30 NM Mode C veil around Class B airports, above 10,000 feet MSL, or over the Gulf of Mexico unless they are equipped with a certified ADS-B Out system.

ASD-B aircraft installations thus far have been lagging the rate that the FAA projected necessary to have its baseline case – 100,000 GA aircraft as well as all the US air carrier fleet equipped with ADS-B Out systems.

Jim Kenney is an aviation safety inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) flight technologies and procedures division in flight standards. Kenney is gratified that the FAA and industry are working cooperatively to ensure as much compliance as possible. “Many people in the FAA would like to see higher numbers of equipage, but we think we’ll see 80,000 – 100,000 by January 2020,” he says.

A large part of his effort is to educate pilots on where they need to equip for the type of flying they do. He stresses that the FAA has already made its investment in the ADS-B ground infrastructure, which has been fully installed and operating since 2014.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been monitoring the situation carefully explains Rune Duke, AOPA’s senior director for government affairs. “MITRE has done a study that indicates 130,000 to 140,000 aircraft fly in rule airspace, and we are estimating that 80,000 to 90,000 will be equipped by 2020.”

While no decisions have been made yet, Duke says the FAA is looking at a waiver process that would allow non-ADS-B equipped aircraft to get in or out of rule airspace (airspace where ADS-B is required) to have installations completed after January 2020.

Rune Duke emphasizes: “We are doing everything we can to show the benefits of equipping with ADS-B beyond rule compliance including the safety and efficiency of flying with ADS-B.”

AOPA’s website carries abundant information on ADS-B as well holding information forums at all the AOPA Regional Fly-ins. AOPA is very focused on showing how utilising ADS-B In, though not mandated by the FAA, can give GA pilots subscription-free traffic (TIS-B) and weather (FIS-B) for unmatched situational awareness in a small GA aircraft.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is also mounting major outreach efforts to its members as well. Doug Carr, vice president of regulatory and internal affairs, is very pleased the way the FAA and all the major trade associations are all committed to the January 1, 2020 deadline.

“NextGen is based on ADS-B and to be able to take advantage of the capabilities, aircraft need to be equipped,” points out Carr.

NBAA estimates that 45-50 per cent of its members still need to equip and they are following the data carefully. Since NBAA members are more typically higher end business aircraft, its members are looking for a more integrated solution with their advanced flight decks.  “Operators have to be smart about what they want in these integrated solutions,” says Carr.

Tim Obitts, executive vice president of operations and business with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), further stresses that equipping with ADS-B is important for its membership.

He sees real value for their Part 135 operators with increased surveillance coverage over traditional radar and is hopeful they will be able to get more direct routings. NATA is not seeing any pushback on the mandate from their members, even though the solutions for ADS-B equipage they have are expensive and time-consuming.

Non-Performing Emitters

One of the big areas the FAA is struggling with is NPEs, or Non-Performing Emitters. Aircraft that have had ADS-B installed but were either not configured correctly during installation or are transmitting incorrect information.

Almost 10-15 per cent of aircraft that the FAA is seeing are considered NPEs. The FAA is trying to track down the owners of those aircraft to get them to check their aircraft set-up. NBAA’s Doug Carr says: “If the FAA calls its because they want to help you ensure your aircraft is in compliance.”

The FAA is urging operators to generate an ADS-B Performance Report to check their installation. If the report indicates an error the operator should work with the avionics shop to get the configuration corrected.

Flight ID Mismatch

One of the other major issues has been Flight ID (FLT ID) mismatch between the ADS-B transmission and what is listed on the flight plan. The FAA is educating operators on this issue as are the aviation trade associations.

For Jim Kenney, this is an area where he spends a significant amount of his time. With air carriers, the flight number is typically entered into the FMS for transmission by the ADS-B system.

For air ambulance, air taxi or some volunteer humanitarian flights (Angel Flight for example) with a special call sign, the pilot/operator needs to ensure that the aircraft’s ADS-B system is configured to be able to accept a special call sign.

This was not an issue with Mode C systems but will be with ADS-B. In March 2018, the FAA saw some 20,000 FLT ID mismatches and so they are working to educate the aviation community about the requirement for ADS-B and flight plan call sign alignment. Special call signs are primarily used to make ATC aware of special needs or handling that flight might require.

FAA Outreach

The FAA is continuing its outreach efforts in order to stimulate pilots to get equipped. Jim Kenney recently attended an AOPA Regional Fly-In in Montana to continue that outreach effort.  Even though Montana might not have the dense traffic of the US East coast or pilots might not be anywhere near Class C and Class B airspace, Kenney was explaining the advantages of having ADS-B with its improved surveillance in mountainous areas, and traffic and weather to GA pilots.

Currently the FAA estimates between 26-41 per cent of GA and between 36-43 per cent of air carriers are equipped with ADS-B. – with the differences lying in not knowing how many GA aircraft are planning to equip by 2020.

The major and regional airlines all have solid plans to get to the mandate deadline, with many of the airlines prewiring aircraft and having a set schedule of maintenance upgrades planned out over several years.

General aviation is a little more difficult with pilots and operators waiting to see if newer, less expensive options will come out as the deadline nears. The concern is many of these aircraft may be locked out of the rule airspace come January 2020 if they don’t get their ADS-B installation scheduled.

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