Tooling Up

Is the European Commission admission that it could allow ‘reasonable, justified’ exemptions for ADS-B retrofits an embarrassing climbdown as the 2020 deadline looms?

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast – ADS–B for short – is a surveillance technology in which an aircraft’s navigation systems determines its position using primarily satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be seen by air traffic control.

As such it is viewed as a cornerstone technology as the international air traffic management industry transitions towards a space-based surveillance vision.

Despite this, both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US and the European Commission have issued various mandates which have subsequently been either revised or postponed with Europe deciding in 2014 to delay the mandate for ADS-B Out equipage for aircraft that would need retrofitting until early to mid 2020.

Now, after previously ruling that all airspace users had to be compliant by June 2020 in order to fly through European airspace, Brussels officials are hinting that while they will continue to hold airspace users to the 2020 mandate, they may offer additional support to stakeholders in their effort to upgrade to the required surveillance technology.

The mixed message followed a July 4 workshop on ADS-B implementation with a large number of stakeholders in attendance plus many more following the proceedings remotely. The workshop included an outline of the current status, compliance issues and attempted to chart a way forward, basing much of its thinking on a recent report conducted by the Single European ATM Research Agency Deployment Manager (SESAR DM).

The report which was published in May presented a snapshot of the ADS-B equipage landscape through the European fleet and provided grim reading.

It found that only a fifth of EU-registered short haul commercial air transport aircraft will meet EASA’s June 7, 2020 ADS-B mandate. As for long-haul aircraft, only 17 per cent of the fleet is ready for ADS-B surveillance.

Data supplied by European airframer Airbus corroborated those findings, indicating that DO-260B-compliant ADS-B transponder equipage across its in-service fleet in Europe stands currently at 20 per cent of short-haul aircraft with slightly less than a third of in-service Airbus A330s – although the vast majority of this long haul component are subject to a planned retrofit programme.

The report noted that intercontinental long haul aircraft flying through US airspace will have to comply with the FAA mandate which requires all aircraft operating in the USA to be DO-260B compliant by the US’ earlier deadline of January 2020.

“…for the medium/short haul fleet,” it added, “major airlines foresee difficulties to retrofit due to the high number of aircraft needed to be equipped in the short-term. The situation is very similar for regional and business aviation according to the feedback received: generally, there are no plans to retrofit their fleet, with very few exceptions,” it noted.

Transition

It added that rumours that the Commission will ultimately offer a five-year transition period between 2020-2025 as well as further exemptions for aircraft retiring before 2025 which could herald yet another amendment of the regulation – could also prove a factor in airlines putting off equipage decisions.

The European Regional Airline Association (ERA) has long been resisting 2018 equipage deadlines forcing them to upgrade to enhanced Mode S and ADS-B ‘Out’ avionics, insisting these avionics technologies are significantly more difficult for many regional aircraft operators’.

ERA says it has been helping to revise EASA’s Surveillance, Performance and Interoperability (SPI) Implementing Regulation whose aim is to provide greater clarity to the airline community, establish a realistic timeframe for implementation of airborne requirements and define a framework for the development of ground-based ADS-B infrastructure.

“However, in some cases, the systems have been found not to be sufficiently technologically mature and operators are being required to retrofit aircraft that were not designed to accommodate significant adjustments to their electronics and avionics architecture,” says ERA.

In a letter outlining conclusions of the workshop Henrik Hololei, the Commission’s director general for transport stressed that ‘the final implementation dates…stand and must be met’ – June 2, 2020 date for ground-based surveillance chains and June 7, 2020, for ADS-B Out systems in aircraft.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association meanwhile praised Hololei’s holding firm on ADS-B implementation, declaring “ADS-B is a valuable tool for pilots, improving efficiency of their flights and enhancing safety, as well as ensuring their access to airspace.”

The Commission is now planning a short consultation campaign together with the SDM, EASA and all relevant stakeholders, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Efforts to accelerate the ADS-B implementation in order to meet the target date set by the regulation could feature incentives such as potential exemptions – even financial inducements, something which ERA said it welcomed the Commission’s decision to consider this added to ‘a reasonable level of flexibility’ in return for stakeholders doing their bit to demonstrate a willingness to comply by developing a plan of action.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also held firm on ADS-B equipage deadlines and likewise will not exempt the requirement for ADS-B Out equipment to be installed and operational on aircraft flying in ADS-B rule airspace starting January 1, 2020

FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell, issuing the latest appeal for operators to equip at this year’s EAA AirVenture, said: “It’s not going away. January 1, 2020, is getting closer and closer. The FAA can do all sorts of things behind the scenes to help manufacturers get safety equipment off the drawing board and into your favourite supply store more quickly. It doesn’t do us any good if they don’t end up on your aircraft.”

The FAA has however granted exemption although with a strict, limited timeframe in which operators must equip with new GPS navigation receivers suitable for transport category aircraft that meet the ADS-B Out Rule requirements as they become more widely available for purchase or installation.

While it will allow for the extended use of an older type of GPS navigation receiver already installed in some aircraft, all other ADS-B Out equipment requirements must still be met and be operational by January 1, 2020. Exemption also imposes certain conditions, limitations and additional pre-flight responsibilities on the operators.

The US aviation authority said that operators seeking the relief must notify the FAA of their intent to comply with the conditions and limitations of the exemption and must have developed and must have submitted an initial GPS position source upgrade plan to the FAA no later than August 1, 2018.

Getting With The Programme

European ADS-B equipage deadlines have been amended twice with the most recent delay postponing the aircraft equipment of ADS-B Out functionality to 7 June 2020.

A European Commission workshop held in early July in Brussels discussed the current implementation status. The workshop’s objective was two-fold: to present the results of a report on the status of ADS-B implementation prepared by the SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM), and to identify solutions to accelerate its deployment and to clarify the way forward.

“It was evident that while progress had been made across Europe by air navigation service providers (ANSP) and airspace users, an additional effort to accelerate the ADS-B implementation is still required to meet the target date set by the regulation,” reported the SDM.

A co-ordinated and synchronised implementation plan was therefore deemed to be paramount, offering a clear and consulted air/ground synchronised deployment programme, with a step-wise approach, comprehensive of exemption and incentive policies.

According to the SDM’s report, the issue now is one purely of deployment rather than one of development, validation, standardisation or any outstanding regulatory aspect.

The SDM report findings and necessary actions derived from the report are summarised below:

At the workshop, the European Commission said that all stakeholders will be expected to communicate as soon as possible their implementation plans which will help form an air-ground synchronised ADS-B implementation plan that will be developed by the SDM with the support of Eurocontrol and in co-ordination with EASA. That draft plan will then go to stakeholder consultation through to the end of the year before launching in January.

“In the context of the air-ground synchronised ADS-B implementation plan the exemption and incentives policies will be examined and potentially modified in order to contribute to an acceleration of deployment,” says the SDM, who adds that it hopes that with positive action from the European Commission and under the coordination of SDM.