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DOT report shines spotlight on ADS-B program risks, cost

AOPA agrees with concerns raised by a Department of Transportation inspector general’s report on the FAA’s planned implementation of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) program, which shined a needed spotlight on management risks, cost burdens, and disincentives for early participation in the program by pilots.

The FAA said that overall the report was a “useful summary” of ADS-B program issues.

The report, released Oct. 12, makes nine recommendations to smooth the implementation and enhance contract oversight of ADS-B, which is to be a major component of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The inspector general’s office made the inquiry into the ADS-B program at the request of the chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure and its aviation subcommittee.

As detailed in this AOPA air traffic services brief, on May 27, 2010, the FAA issued a final rule mandating ADS-B Out equipage, which will allow aircraft equipped with GPS receivers to transmit their location and altitude to other nearby aircraft, and to air traffic control. Effective  Jan. 1, 2020, any aircraft operating in airspace where a Mode C transponder is required today will also be required to carry an ADS-B Out transmitter.

The FAA is not mandating ADS-B In systems with the rule. Aircraft would continue to be required to carry transponders after 2020.  The FAA maintains that the mandate will not greatly increase or decrease safety, but is needed to move NextGen forward.

AOPA has pointed out that many hurdles prevent the ADS-B from being beneficial to general aviation in the near term, presenting a significant disincentive to early adoption by GA pilots. The DOT IG report’s risk assessment acknowledged these concerns.

“Airspace users have raised legitimate questions about the costs to equip aircraft, evolving requirements for ADS-B In, and a lack of clearly defined benefits for enhancing capacity and reducing delays. FAA considers their concerns as a major risk to the successful implementation of ADS-B,” the report said.

The 37-page document also addressed the “considerable uncertainty” in FAA estimates of the cost of equipping aircraft, with aggregate costs to airspace users ranging from $2.5 billion to $6.2 billion. It said the estimates “require further refinement.”

That uncertainty extended to the question of ADS-B In, which will provide cockpit displays that can depict traffic information.

“FAA expects that once airspace users have invested in ADS-B Out as mandated, they will then voluntarily equip to realize the additional capabilities of ADS-B In,” the report said. “However, ADS-B In is still in its early stages, and requirements for the full range of its applications envisioned in planning documents continue to change.”

How the FAA plans to modify its existing automation systems to display ADS-B information to controllers was also an open question, and problems integrating ADS-B on displays at the initial operating sites “indicate this will be a significant challenge to nationwide deployment.”

 Until the FAA succeeds in addressing “uncertainties associated with equipage and requirements for ADS-B’s advanced capabilities, progress with ADS-B will be limited, and the potential for cost increases, delays, and performance shortfalls will continue.”

The DOT inspector general’s performance audit of the program took place between August 2007 and June 2010. The report includes FAA responses to the nine recommendations, concurring with seven and partially concurring with the remaining two.

“Overall, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] report provides a useful summary of the issues and perspectives involved with ADS-B development,” the FAA said.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, ADS-B

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