FAA unveils long-term plan to replace radar

October 3, 2007

FAA unveils long-term plan to replace radar

By Nathan A. Ferguson

ADS-B
Illustration by John Macneil

The FAA's ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) proposal, announced on Oct. 2, is fairly one-sided. There are advantages for the government in air traffic surveillance, but it raises a lot of questions for the airline community and the average general aviation pilot.

The FAA's proposed rulemaking would mandate all aircraft flying in controlled airspace to install ADS-B equipment by 2020. Similar to transponder requirements, aircraft would need ADS-B to fly above 10,000 feet msl or within Class B or C terminal airspace. The FAA wants to reduce its infrastructure of aging ground-based radar by relying more on satellite-based navigation on board aircraft.

"This represents a big cost shift for the FAA and should be considered in the funding debate that surrounds the current FAA reauthorization legislation. If they want GA pilots to spend thousands of dollars on new avionics, we need to make sure that the expenditures are considered as we assess what GA should pay in fuel taxes in the future FAA budget. Plus, we need to see clearly the safety and operational benefits," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But also remember, this is a long time off. We at least have some time to prepare."

The proposal mentions two kinds of ADS-B. "ADS-B out" would act similar to a transponder where aircraft location and altitude information would be sent out once per second. Under the FAA's implementation plan, traditional services such as flight following or radar-like vectoring in new locations would not be offered. Aircraft owners would have to install a display at an additional cost to receive the "ADS-B in" service, which would provide weather and traffic data to the pilot.

AOPA has begun to scrutinize the 100-page proposal and already many technical questions have surfaced. AOPA, along with many other industry representatives, had asked the FAA to provide advanced notice of the proposal so that technical details could be worked out. But the FAA went ahead anyway without addressing the costs, benefits, and other issues. The association will be filing detailed comments within the 90-day public comment window.

"AOPA members will be given access to our full analysis when complete so they may take advantage of our research to compose their own comments," Boyer added.

The FAA moved quickly - without much consultation from the industry - on the contract for building the ADS-B ground infrastructure. On Aug. 30, it awarded a $1.8 billion contract to an ITT Corp. team.

"Our initial review indicates that much more work needs to be done before the FAA publishes its final rule," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA senior director of strategic planning. "AOPA is committed to working through every one of the issues that will be of concern to members."

AOPA has always been supportive of satellite navigation and ADS-B because the technology is far more capable than transponders. Some 75 percent of AOPA members have said they would be willing to equip their aircraft with ADS-B if free weather and traffic information were provided, and if the equipment cost was about the same as a transponder, assuming it could be replaced with ADS-B.

October 3, 2007