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Mandate Myth-Busting

Separating Fact from Fiction for ADS-B 2020 Equipage Requirements

Source: www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing, By Tom Hoffman

As of the publication date of this issue, there will only be 44 months remaining before the FAA’s ADS-Out equipage deadline set for January 1, 2020. And yet, as this deadline fast approaches, there are still many aircraft owners who are unsure, undecided, or just confused about what equipment they may or may not need to comply.

To help shed light on some common ADS-B misconceptions, the FAA Safety Briefing staff sat down with two of FAA’s leading experts in the area of ADS-B equipage: James Marks from the Aircraft Maintenance Division’s Avionics branch, and Alex Rodriguez of the Aircraft Certification Service’s Communications and Surveillance Technologies section (and no, not the New York Yankees!) Together they were able to tackle some important questions and debunk many of the myths about ADS-B equipment choices, specifications, and installation procedures. Their responses, presented in a two-part series, should hopefully clear up some of the confusion of the ADS-B Out requirement and get folks on the proper path toward compliance.

Myth: Since the airlines and the military are getting a free pass beyond 2020, the FAA will wind up extending the deadline for everyone. Why should I bother installing now? And aren’t our international partners behind schedule too?

There are no plans for the FAA to extend the mandate for ADS-B Out equipment beyond the existing 2020 deadline date. We realize there is some confusion about certain segments of industry getting exemptions from the rule. That is simply not true. To be clear, we’re not giving anyone a free pass; airlines or Department of Defense, and both have plans to equip. Part of the confusion is that when people hear exemptions for airlines they think it’s a blanket exemption for ADS-B. What we are actually doing is allowing certain qualifying air carriers and operators to use GPS equipment that may lack two specific navigation parameters contained in the rule for a limited time. These operators must still be ADS-B Out equipped and meet all of the remaining performance requirements. For more details on this exemption, including a fact sheet and an operations bulletin, visit www.faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb/exemption.

As for the DOD, they have identified some platform compatibility issues — in particular with certain fleets that will soon retire — but they are hard at work to get their aircraft equipped by the deadline. In fact, the installation numbers for the military have recently picked up.

And as far as progress on equipping ADS-B Out outside the United States is concerned, our foreign partners are actually following suit with our regulation and will likely be only a few months behind.

Myth: The longer I wait to equip, the cheaper the prices will be and the more technically advanced options I’ll have.

With regard to cost, we did see a period of significant price drops for ADS-B boxes within the last two years, but those have really stabilized since. It’s worth pointing out that it costs a certain amount of money to produce these units and that we may have already realized the bottom in terms of pricing. Furthermore, as the demand for ADS-B boxes continues to rise, it’s rational to think the prices will go up as well. So waiting around might not bring about the cost advantage you were hoping for.

As far as waiting for the technology to advance, we’re not seeing anything new or novel in the technology for the near future. What’s coming down the pipeline is pretty much identical to what’s out there already. The manufacturers are mainly just modifying things for certain platforms or are changing a feature or two. We don’t see anything increasing massive functionality or that will significantly drive costs down. Our Equip ADS-B website (www.faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb) has a list of approved ADS-B Out devices and a searchable database of devices provided to the agency by the equipment manufacturers. We will update this page regularly to keep you apprised of any changes.

At last check on the FAA’s website, there were 12 ADS-B Out vendors, with about 45 models. With so many options, models, and manufacturers to choose from, where does an owner even start? What are some of the differentiating factors for these systems? And if they are all designed to the same set of performance standards, could I not get by with just picking the cheapest one?

For starters, it’s possible you may not need to equip with ADS-B at all. But assuming you do, there are some important differentiating factors, and configuration and compatibility issues you’ll want to consider before just settling on the option with the lowest price tag. To understand this better, let’s review for a minute. With any certified ADS-B Out system, you’ll need A), a position source (there are options, but a WAAS GPS is clearly the most common) and B), a compatible means of transmitting that position information. There are two types of transmitters you can choose from: the Mode-S transponder with Extended Squitter (1090 MHz), or the Universal Access Transceiver (978 MHz). Both of these are certified to a set of standards for each and so in terms of meeting the prescribed performance requirements, they operate the same way.

Where the differences come in for the manufacturers from one to the other are the features they offer. Some units have integrated features (a WAAS GPS and ADS-B transponder combined in one unit) while others are separate. The best option for you really depends on what type of equipment already exists in your aircraft and what type of flying you expect to do. For aircraft owners that have more of a bare bones set up when it comes to avionics, they might lean more toward those all-in-one units for a couple reasons: having everything they need in one box saves both space and weight. Others might love their existing Mode C transponder and don’t want to get rid of it. In that case, they can then just upgrade their GPS (if needed) and install a UAT device to satisfy the ADS-B part of rule. In fact, some manufacturers have a drop in replacement for an older Mode C transponder — a nice convenience that prevents you from having to tear out the entire transponder interface. Just be wary of the unit’s interoperability with your GPS.

Then there are those that want to get the biggest bang for their buck and take full advantage of the situational awareness benefits that ADS-B In offers (i.e., traffic and weather displays). Those owners may prefer an integrated system with both -In and -Out capability and that has a built-in display or is Wi-Fi capable so you can display information on your tablet.

Another important consideration is the airspace you fly in. If you fly at or above FL 180 (18,000 ft.), or internationally, you’ll need a 1090 system. If you don’t fly at or above FL 180, you can choose either a 1090 or UAT system. Although some people may never intend to fly in 1090-required airspace, they are still opting for a Mode S system in case they change their mind or want to beef up their aircraft’s resale value.

As we mentioned earlier, there is also the real possibility for some aircraft owners to not have to equip at all. There is a vast amount of airspace under 10,000 feet where ADS-B Out is not required. On the other hand, if you’re based at an airport within Class B or C airspace, the rule will definitely affect you. An easy way to remember this is that if you need a transponder to fly now, you’ll need ADS-B Out when the mandate takes effect. If you’re still not sure, have a look at the FAA’s “Do I Need to Equip?” flow chart at www.faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb/equip/. You’ll also find a clear breakdown of ADS-B rule airspace requirements at www.faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb/airspace/requirements.

How can ADS-B Out system installations be approved?

Initial ADS-B Out system pairings (transmitter/GPS) must be approved for installation using the Type Certificate (TC), Amended TC (ATC), or Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) process. Consult your Aircraft Certification Office to determine the appropriate approval process for these initial installations. Once the performance of the initial pairing has been established, the FAA considers follow-on installations of the same pairing to be approved.

Approved pairings can be installed under the Field Approval process, or if certain conditions are met, installed without further approval from the FAA. A recent policy memo, Installation Approval of ADS-B OUT Systems, dated March 2, 2016, contains more information on this change. This document will soon be available at www.faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb/installation/.

Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.