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Cutting the cost of ADS-BCutting the cost of ADS-B

We are almost exactly five years away from a big deadline set by the FAA. On January 1, 2020, all aircraft will have to be equipped for ADS-B Out if they want to fly inside airspace that requires a Mode C transponder today.

mark bakerWe are almost exactly five years away from a big deadline set by the FAA. On January 1, 2020, all aircraft will have to be equipped for ADS-B Out if they want to fly inside airspace that requires a Mode C transponder today. If you live or fly near a large city or major airport, that means you. Here’s the problem: The mandate as written is just way too expensive for many general aviation pilots and owners.

In late October, AOPA did a study. We took a good hard look at the FAA’s aircraft registry to see what general aviation airplanes are really worth. Looking only at fixed-wing, piston-powered, certified GA aircraft from the eight most prolific manufacturers, we found 81,654 aircraft valued at $40,000 or less. That’s 43 percent of all the registered fixed-wing, piston-powered certified aircraft on the registry. Keep in mind that we didn’t look at other makes and models, nor did we include Experimental aircraft. If we had, I feel confident the number would have soared to 100,000, or more, registered aircraft that are worth $40,000 or less.

What that means when it comes to ADS-B equipage is that there are tens of thousands of pilots and aircraft owners out there who are unable or understandably hesitant to invest a minimum of $5,000 to $6,000 to install the required ADS-B Out equipment.

We’ve been telling the FAA since 2008 that the mandate is too costly, and although prices have come down somewhat, they just aren’t where they need to be. The good news is that there is some exciting new equipment that might make a dent in the price tag for ADS-B Out. The bad news is that it’s not yet widely available. In the meantime, I routinely hear from members who tell me that—unless some alternatives are found—they will have to ground their airplanes come 2020 because they just can’t afford the needed equipment.

The mandate is unworkable without some meaningful changes—and that’s what we’ve told the FAA.

The agency recently hosted a “call to action” summit to begin addressing the barriers that have prevented the GA community from equipping well in advance of the deadline. AOPA was part of that summit, and we made it very clear that cost is a huge factor.

We’re asking the FAA to take a fresh look at the mandate and the assumptions behind it. After all, five years have passed since the mandate was put in place, and some of the assumptions underpinning its specific requirements may no longer be valid.

I have personally asked FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to address the economic impact of the mandate on the general aviation community, consider the average value of GA aircraft today, and review the changes that have taken place since the mandate was finalized in 2010—including the rise of increasingly advanced portable in-cockpit technology such as iPads. I’ve also asked him to look at the very real logistical challenges of meeting the timeline, including the availability of equipment, qualified technicians, and shop time needed to install it.

From the very beginning, AOPA has argued that pilots should be allowed to take advantage of handheld equipment to meet the mandate. These kinds of solutions tend to be more flexible and less costly than more traditional, panel-mounted technology.

Cost is perhaps the single biggest reason GA pilots haven’t rushed to equip for ADS-B Out. But there are plenty of problems with the implementation process itself that have created confusion and frustration for aircraft owners trying to decide what to do about the mandate and when to do it. The recent U.S. DOT Inspector General’s report pointed out cost overruns, coverage gaps, and uncertainty about ADS-B In requirements, technical problems, and questions about the integrity of data collection. These are serious issues and they need serious responses from the FAA. They can’t be glossed over in the rush to meet an artificial deadline.

This is a time when GA desperately needs to grow, and it’s irresponsible for the FAA to push forward with a mandate that could do serious harm to GA right now. The GA industry has had an especially tough time in the recent recession. And the pilot community has been shrinking for years. We need all the support we can get.

At AOPA, we’re working hard to welcome newcomers to aviation, improve the training experience, lower the cost of ownership, increase access to aircraft, and find ways to make flying more affordable for many more people. But costly mandates like this one are making that job even tougher.

I feel strongly there are steps the FAA can take that will make it possible for the GA community to fully participate in the move to a satellite-based air traffic management system that includes ADS-B. And the first step is for the FAA to consider alternative and far less expensive ways to meet the 2020 mandate.

AOPA President Mark Baker is an active general aviation pilot who flies for business or pleasure nearly every day of the year.

Email [email protected]

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