A surfeit of new hardware options announced at the EAA Airventure fly-in did little to satisfy general aviation (GA) aircraft owner concerns about the cost and feasibility of a 2020 mandate to equip the national fleet with new air traffic surveillance systems.
Tens of thousands of GA aircraft have not yet equipped with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) hardware, despite a growing number of technical options entering the market.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all aircraft operating in controlled airspace to transmit GPS-based location data – augmented by the wide area augmentation system (WAAS) – by 1 January 2020. This automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system will augment radar tracking, providing all users of the NextGen air traffic control system with far more accurate and up-to-date position information.
But some private aircraft owners remain concerned about the cost to equip. Among products announced or “teased” at Airventure, the L-3 Lynx system offered the lowest-cost means of compliance with the basic model priced just under $2,000. Other compliant transceivers released by Aspen Avionics and BendixKing range in price up to $3,500 for basic compliance, with advance features costing several thousand dollars more.
Driving the equipment cost is an FAA performance requirement that will drive most aircraft owners to install a WAAS-augmented GPS signal, says Jens Hennig, vice-president of operations at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
GAMA accepted the WAAS requirement from the FAA based on research showing that about 80,000 aircraft in a general aviation fleet of about 200,000 aircraft are already equipped with a WAAS positioning source, Hennig says.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has protested the ADS-B mandate, has urged the FAA and industry to seek lower-cost WAAS technology or allow the general aviation community to use less expensive – and less precise – technology.
“That WAAS chip is an expensive part of the proposition,” says Rob Hackman, vice-president for regulatory affairs. “What’s the opportunity to look at lower cost ways of either getting a WAAS-enhanced chip or some relief from that requirement?”
The GA community is, however, unlikely to be relieved from the timing of the 2020 mandate, according to Hennig and FAA officials.
In the early 1990s, the FAA cancelled the microwave landing system (MLS) programme after some aircraft owners spent thousands of dollars to make their aircraft compliant. That memory has likely kept thousands of GA owners from equipping with ADS-B until it is clear that the programme will work.
The FAA, however, can point to several signs that should add confidence to the system, Hennig says. The agency completed installing a nationwide network of ADS-B ground stations last March. ADS-B already has been operational in the national airspace since 2010.
Indeed, two FAA officials present at an AOPA-sponsored panel were almost unequivocal when asked what the chances were of the mandate being delayed.
“Almost zero,” says Robert Nichols, director of the FAA’s surveillance and broadcast services office.
AOPA, meanwhile, prefers to reserve judgment. “That is going to be interesting to see over the next couple of years as we get closer to the mandate,” Hackman says.