FreeFlight Systems gains wider approval for ADS-B Out

November 5, 2012

With an estimated 225,000 aircraft in the U.S. fleet still in need of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) “Out” capability by 2020 to comply with NextGen modernization, the FAA has apparently eased the installation approval process, and a Texas company is the first to offer a combination of ADS-B Out equipment subject to field approval by FAA flight standards district offices.

FreeFlight Systems of Waco, Texas, secured a supplemental type certificate (STC) this year for installation of its ADS-B equipment in AgustaWestland 139 helicopters commonly used to support oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and expects an STC will be approved for Cessna 172 installations in about a month. That Cessna STC will also cover an approved model list spanning Cessna’s 150-series and 180-series aircraft, according to FreeFlight Systems Director of Sales and Marketing Jessica Power.

The field approval process allows installers to complete installations in certificated aircraft using Form 337, without needing to conduct extensive testing to validate performance, and it means that owners of other aircraft makes and models should be able to receive FAA approval for installations using the same equipment and configuration as those approved under the STC, Power said.

The company plans to work with dealers in different parts of the country, and different FSDOs, to test the theoretically streamlined field approval process detailed in an FAA memo issued Oct. 10.

“Our goal is to do some pilot programming and make sure it’s going to be effective as it appears to be on paper,” Power said, adding that the FAA decision to allow field approvals in lieu of STCs for each aircraft model is “unprecedented” and “significant.”

FreeFlight Systems CEO Tim Taylor said in a news release that the FAA policy update “represents a prudent, practical and welcome advance in the deployment of ADS-B, especially in the general aviation fleet."

The company has worked with the FAA for more than a decade to define and prove performance standards for ADS-B avionics.

“We're also expecting to secure installation approvals for most popular GA aircraft in the coming months to further ease what could be a difficult capacity crunch at avionics shops,” Taylor said, referring to the huge number of aircraft not yet compliant with the 2020 mandate. Avionics installers would need to average 125 ADS-B out installations every working day, starting in January 2013, to have the entire fleet fitted in time to meet the deadline. “The equipage deadline is far more pressing than it may seem.”

In order to be eligible for field approval, installed avionics must have technical standard order (TSO) approval, and be installed in a configuration that matches an existing type certificate or STC, if not necessarily for the same make and model of aircraft.

A TSO-approved ADS-B transmitter such as FreeFlight’s RANGR 978 MHz system along with a TSO-approved Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) GPS receiver, and a compatible, approved transponder are the key components for ADS-B compliance. The FreeFlight 1201 WAAS GPS was used with the RANGR ADS-B device in the AgustaWestland and Cessna installations for which FreeFlight sought approval.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.