Back to the Drawing Board

ADS-B needs to be easily implemented

August 1, 2008

The FAA’s broadly criticized notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) went back to the FAA’s drawing board after receiving broad and pointed condemnation from AOPA and much of the aviation industry.

AOPA encouraged the FAA to start from scratch with a “supplemental” NPRM that replaces the old one.

“The original FAA proposal was unacceptable,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president for government affairs. “The FAA needs to redesign its implementation plans and re-publish a supplemental NPRM that gets it right.”

AOPA has long championed ADS-B as a proven technology that can greatly enhance flight safety. But the FAA’s original NPRM would have imposed heavy new regulatory and financial burdens on general aviation pilots and aircraft owners while offering few, if any, benefits.

GA aircraft, for example, would have been required to carry transponders, in addition to new ADS-B equipment, to fly in Class B airspace. Many years of experience in ongoing ADS-B trials have shown that the new system, which replaces radar with GPS satellites, makes transponders unnecessary.

“The FAA’s original NPRM stacked requirements for new equipment on top of old ones,” said Randy Kenagy, AOPA chief of staff for government affairs. “That was very disappointing. A big part of the reason AOPA has been such a strong supporter of ADS-B since the 1990s is that it allows us to replace transponders with new avionics that can provide real benefits. The way the NPRM was written, we’d get a bunch of new costs, but it was difficult, if not impossible, to find any actual benefits for GA.”

AOPA also criticized the NPRM for requiring GA aircraft to carry new equipment that provides ADS-B “out”—or signals that broadcast each airplane’s identity, position, and direction. But the proposed rules failed to provide new services or benefits. And there is currently no cost-effective way for GA aircraft to receive vital ADS-B “in”—signals that can provide all pilots with potentially lifesaving airspace, weather, and traffic information. ADS-B “out” would have been required by 2020 for all aircraft operating in Class A, B, or C airspace, or at altitudes above 10,000 feet in the continental United States. The FAA has not proposed any mandates for ADS-B “in.”

AOPA has asked the FAA to provide GA pilots with cost-effective access to Universal Access Transceivers (UATs), data links that can provide all aircraft with certifiable, accurate, free weather information. But the NPRM failed to specify that all GA aircraft equip with either UATs or a competing technology known as 1090ES—an oversight that, if not corrected, could allow cockpit displays in two aircraft flying in the same traffic pattern to not see each other.

“That’s an issue that keeps me awake at night,” Kenagy said. “This technology is intended to improve safety, but without changes by the FAA, the system will not have the safety benefits we’ve identified in nearly 10 years of testing and demonstrations at our AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland.”

An FAA aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) that includes about 40 industry specialists and avionics experts is scheduled to send its final ADS-B report to the FAA in September. What will happen after that is unknown, but another public comment period, if required, could last well into next year. Kenagy said debates within the ARC—and between committee members and the FAA—are likely to be complex and concentrated this summer leading up to the committee’s final report.

AOPA will continue seeking to provide the bulk of the GA fleet with safety-enhancing, affordable ADS-B technology.

“It’s realistic for the mandated ADS-B technology to become available to GA pilots at about the same cost as today’s transponders,” Kenagy said. “We’re pushing hard for the FAA to make ADS-B benefits as widely available as possible, at the lowest cost, and with 12 years to achieve these goals, we believe there is time to get it right.”

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Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.