The FAA should leverage existing cockpit technologies to move NextGen forward before mandating new equipment, Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures flight schools and a longtime AOPA member, testified at a hearing of the House Small Business Committee.
The June 11 hearing focused on the benefits and challenges of the FAA’s mandate that aircraft be equipped for ADS-B Out by 2020. Under the mandate, ADS-B Out equipment will be required anywhere a Mode C transponder is required today. ADS-B Out uses GPS data to transmit aircraft location and altitude information to nearby aircraft and to air traffic control.
In his testimony, Hepp, who owns four flight school locations in Virginia operating 39 aircraft, told the committee that the equipage mandate could be prohibitively expensive for small businesses like his. The necessary avionics currently cost approximately $5,000 per aircraft while installation typically adds another $3,000 to $4,000 to the cost to comply, he said.
Testifying on behalf of AOPA, Hepp told committee members that there is no incentive for businesses and individual pilots to equip early because the benefits of the NextGen mandate are inadequate and unclear to many GA owners and operators.
“For most general aviation pilots, there are no direct benefits of the ADS-B Out mandate,” Hepp told the committee. “Complying with the mandate will simply allow pilots to continue using the National Airspace System as they do today.”
Small aviation companies like his, small businesses that use GA, and individual aircraft owners need help to manage the costs of meeting the 2020 mandate, Hepp said. Establishing a fund to provide low-cost, federally guaranteed loans would help the GA community meet the mandate. The current FAA reauthorization requires the FAA to establish such a fund, but to date no action has been taken.
Hepp noted that many pilots already use mobile devices to receive ADS-B In information in the cockpit, and that those same devices could be used to provide ADS-B Out. ADS-B In, which is not mandated, brings weather into the cockpit. ADS-B Out brings traffic and other information into the cockpit, providing safety and situational awareness benefits to GA operators.
Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), an AOPA member, GA pilot, and co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, acknowledged challenges associated with the mandate in his opening remarks.
“It seems that cost, a potential installation backlog, and uncertainty surrounding the mandate are creating obstacles to compliance among the general aviation industry,” Graves said. “It is important to address these challenges if we are to reap the potential safety benefits that this new technology offers.”
To maximize those safety benefits, Hepp urged the FAA to focus on leveraging equipment already available in the majority of GA aircraft. He told the committee that providing precision approaches to airports that don’t currently have them, expanding surveillance beyond the existing radar footprint, allowing point-to-point navigation, and providing better routing through congested airspace could save fuel and time, increase safety, and lower the cost of flying.
The committee also heard from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta; Paula Derks, president of the Aircraft Electronics Association; Tim Taylor, president of FreeFlight Systems, who spoke on behalf of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; and Kenneth Button, director of the Center for Transportation Policy, Operations and Logistics at George Mason University.