AOPA has been harshly critical of the FAA’s ADS-B implementation plan. Now a key committee in Congress agrees with the association’s concerns.
The FAA’s plan to mandate ADS-B “out” equipage by 2020 “provides no significant benefit for general aviation, just another box that the aircraft owner will have to buy and install as the ‘price of admission’ to Class A, B, and C airspace,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, in its report to accompany the fiscal year 2009 Department of Transportation appropriations bill, came to a similar conclusion. The committee said that it “remains concerned that the FAA defines its objectives for the ADS-B program too narrowly. The FAA has designed the base program for ADS-B so that the technology will merely replicate the capabilities that radar technology already provides.”
AOPA has argued that if the benefits are there, pilots will voluntarily equip with new technology, just as they did with GPS. “The committee believes that the FAA can effectively compel the aviation industry to invest in ADS-B voluntarily by proffering benefits that can be attained only through such equipage. If fuel prices continue at their current levels, then the FAA will have an especially hard time convincing the aviation community to invest in new technologies sooner than the regulated deadlines.... Before equipping with ADS-B, the industry will not only want to see that the FAA is paying its share of the expense, it will also want to see what benefits will accrue to their operations.”
The FAA calls ADS-B “out,” in which the aircraft broadcasts its identity and GPS-derived position and direction to receivers on the ground and in other aircraft, the “backbone” of the NextGen air traffic control system. But the Appropriations Committee questions whether the FAA has a complete plan for NextGen.
For example, the network architecture plan to link all of the NextGen information systems lacks detail. “For this reason, the committee does not feel confident that the FAA knows how it will move from the current system to NextGen,” the report states.
And while NextGen is supposed to improve capacity and reduce air traffic delays, the lawmakers have their doubts. “The committee is extremely troubled by the fact that none of the budget justifications, planning documents, or enterprise architecture documents detail how each initiative in NextGen will reduce delays and congestion between now and 2025.”
The committee also made note of the FAA’s track record “cost overruns, schedule delays, and unmet expectations” over the course of 30 years and the $50 billion it has spent so far in air traffic control modernization.
“The FAA now must continue to upgrade the existing air traffic control system at the same time that it starts a new effort to completely transform that system with satellite-based technology and network-centric operations,” the committee report states. “The demand for air transportation will soon outgrow the capacity of the current system. The FAA effort to develop a completely new way to manage the national airspace system [NAS] is already decades late. Given the complexity and the expense that this new effort will entail, American taxpayers cannot afford the FAA to repeat the mistakes of its past.”
The FAA was taken aback by the almost universal condemnation of its proposed rule to implement the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system earlier this year. So the FAA asked the industry to come together in an ADS-B “aviation rulemaking committee” (ADS-B ARC) to resolve concerns and make recommendations to the agency on rule changes.
“The stakes are huge for general aviation,” said Randy Kenagy, AOPA’s government affairs chief of staff and one of two GA representatives on the ADS-B ARC. “As the FAA’s proposal is currently written, there could be as much as a $3.5 billion impact on GA.”
That’s why AOPA is arguing in the ADS-B ARC meetings that began this week that GA should either be exempt from the mandate that all aircraft equip with ADS-B by 2020, or that the FAA’s implementation plan be reconfigured to provide robust benefits to GA pilots.
As it stands now, GA pilots would have to install ADS-B to get no more guaranteed utility than what they get currently from their transponder—which they would also have to keep in their aircraft. “ADS-B technology could significantly improve safety, as has been demonstrated in Alaska and here at AOPA headquarters,” said Kenagy. “But without changes to the implementation rule, we won’t get those benefits.
“AOPA will push hard to make ADS-B benefits widely available, at the lowest cost,” Kenagy said.
The ADS-B ARC includes some 15 representatives from airspace users, avionics and airframe manufacturers, airlines, and the government. AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association represent GA on the committee.