The FAA announced Tuesday that it will extend ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) nationwide, along with FIS-B (flight information service-broadcast) for weather information and TIS-B (traffic information service-broadcast) for traffic.
That's good. AOPA has been pushing ADS-B as GA's system of choice for air traffic control modernization, especially because of the benefits of weather and traffic information in the cockpit. But it doesn't mean an immediate new expense for general aviation aircraft owners.
While the FAA said that ADS-B will become mandatory in the future, "It won't be required aboard GA aircraft until it's affordable and FIS-B and TIS-B are available everywhere," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "With the additional information ADS-B brings into the cockpit, we think every pilot will want it."
FIS-B delivers Nexrad radar images and METAR and TAF weather reports directly to a cockpit multifunction display, while TIS-B can show other nearby aircraft on the same display. AOPA is advocating that ADS-B shouldn't be mandated until at least eight years after FIS-B and TIS-B are universally available.
"What this decision also demonstrates is that the FAA can replace an outdated technology costing billions with one costing millions, which certainly calls into question the claim that the agency needs more money to modernize the ATC system," said Boyer.
That's because ADS-B will ultimately replace the FAA's aging radar network, which costs some $150 million a year just to maintain and would cost an estimated $2.5 billion to upgrade.
To build the entire ADS-B system, by contrast, will cost an estimated $1 billion, and $30 million annually to operate and maintain.
The FAA plans to "let vendors install and maintain the equipment, and to lease services from them, just as the agency today buys telcom services from telecommunications companies. They will both reduce costs and give the agency greater flexibility," the agency said in a press release.
"This shows that by making smart decisions on modernization, the FAA can improve the system using the current funding system," said Boyer. "The agency doesn't need more money. The aviation tax system isn't broken."
Nor will ADS-B break the pilot's bank. That's because AOPA has insisted that equipage not become mandatory until the system is available everywhere with weather and traffic information provided for free, and the equipment becomes affordable. "We want to see a basic ADS-B installation that costs no more than a Mode C transponder," said Boyer.
But by the time ADS-B does become mandatory, many GA aircraft owners will already have it installed. Much like what happened with GPS, pilots will see the value of near-real-time weather graphics in the cockpit and appreciate the additional collision avoidance warning from the traffic information service.
ADS-B for general aviation takes the place of radar and transponders by broadcasting the aircraft's GPS-derived position through a universal access transceiver (UAT) radio. That signal is picked up by simple radio receivers on the ground and translated to target information on a controller's scope. That same information can also be received and displayed by nearby aircraft.
The UAT radio establishes a two-way datalink with the ground, so that weather and other information can be transmitted to the aircraft.
ADS-B is a much simpler system than the radar/secondary beacon system currently used for ATC surveillance. It doesn't suffer from line-of-sight limitations like radar, and it can be easily installed in remote areas where radar would be prohibitively expensive.
May 4, 2006