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Final ADS-B rule

Where are the pilot benefits?

Aviation is full of acronyms, and a new acronym has joined the lingo: ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance—broadcast). It is becoming an emphasis for EAA’s work with the FAA and industry in the coming years.

The FAA’s ADS-B final rule will affect pilots who fly in Class A, B, or C airspace. By the year 2020, any aircraft operating within that airspace must have a compliant ADS-B device in the cockpit. ADS-B uses GPS signals along with aircraft avionics to transmit an aircraft’s location to ground receivers. The ground receivers then transmit that information to air traffic controllers’ screens, ADS-B (out). As originally envisioned, the system would also display the same information to aircraft equipped with ADS-B avionics, ADS-B (in).

However, the FAA’s rule does not eliminate transponders when ADS-B is installed in an aircraft. They’ll still be required, potentially forcing pilots to maintain both systems. And the ADS-B system, as proposed in the FAA mandate, would not offer any additional benefits to pilots.

EAA has long favored a satellite-based tracking system, provided that it would benefit aircraft operators as well as the national airspace system. Unfortunately, the FAA has only mandated what’s called ADS-B (out), which sends tracking information to the air traffic system.

EAA has long held that the benefit to pilots would be from systems that allow us to receive traffic, weather, and safety information in the cockpit ADS-B (in). Without that element, the new mandate directly serves only FAA air traffic control.

“What this new rule does is shift the cost of aircraft tracking from the government’s mammoth ground-based radar systems to the cockpit and the individual pilot,” said Doug Macnair, EAA’s vice president of government relations. “It makes sense to migrate to new satellite-based technology based on ADS-B, which would replace existing transponders and encoders. But if the aircraft owner has to pay for it, pilots should also receive substantial safety and operational benefits.”

There’s another catch to the mandate: Right now there is no certified ADS-B unit available on the market. Rough estimates for the technology at today’s costs are about $8,000 per airplane.

“Unlike GPS units, which rely on satellite technology to bring positional information into the cockpit, ADS-B also sends information to the air traffic system. That means all systems must be compliant with ground- and aircraft-based receivers, so FAA certification would be needed similar to today’s transponders and encoders,” Macnair said. “The price of the technology is likely to drop dramatically in the next decade as new units emerge and competition develops in the marketplace. However, the FAA should forward a plan to develop both ADS-B (in) and (out) standards, so the maximum amount of benefits to the pilot community can take place, incentivizing installation rather than mandating it.”

What does this mean in the short term for GA pilots? Probably not a great deal, given the 10-year implementation period. EAA recommends the following:

Don’t be an early adopter. With a 10-year compliance deadline, many technical and marketplace-driven advances likely will come that could drive down prices and improve features.

Stay up-to-date on the issue. This debate is far from over. Implementation rules can change, and EAA will continue to work with the FAA and industry groups to bring the potential benefits of ADS-B (in) to its members and all of general aviation.

ADS-B will serve as the backbone of what’s often called “NextGen” for air traffic control. But that’s only possible if the system provides benefits for everyone involved, especially the pilots who must bear the cost of the technology.

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