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President's Position

Bringing down the cost of ADS-B

For a relatively small group of aircraft owners, especially those who routinely fly in places like the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska—where the benefits of ADS-B are evident—the decision to equip for the FAA’s January 1, 2020, ADS-B Out mandate was a simple one.

It's the way forward, but it has to make sense

mark baker

Most people don’t like it when things are up in the air. Too much uncertainty can be paralyzing. Should I do this, or that? Should I act now, or wait? Because we don’t know, we can’t take decisive steps to move forward. And I, for one, hate feeling stuck.

But that’s exactly how many aircraft owners and operators have been feeling when it comes to meeting the FAA’s ADS-B Out mandate.

For a relatively small group of aircraft owners, especially those who routinely fly in places like the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska—where the benefits of ADS-B are evident—the decision to equip for the FAA’s January 1, 2020, ADS-B Out mandate was a simple one. Equipping made sense, so as soon as certified solutions were available, they made the purchase. I’ve heard from some AOPA members who fit into that group and they’ve generally been very happy with their decision.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard from far more members who tell me there currently is no path to compliance for their aircraft, or that they will have to sell or ground their aircraft if we can’t come up with a more cost-effective way to meet the ADS-B mandate. For these and thousands of other aircraft owners, there have been too many questions and obstacles for them to take action and move forward.

For the owners of Light Sport aircraft or newer aircraft with glass panels, there have been unanswerable questions about when the aircraft manufacturers will identify and approve a solution. And for those who own older aircraft with lower values, price has been one of the biggest obstacles. Many in this group simply can’t justify installing equipment that may cost 15 percent to 20 percent of the value of their airplane, just so they can keep flying in the same airspace they use now.

At AOPA we’ve made a concerted effort to bring attention to this dilemma. We wanted the FAA and avionics manufacturers to recognize the effect that price has had on equipage. So far only about 10,000 aircraft have equipped to meet the ADS-B Out mandate—and price is one big reason why.

AOPA is part of Equip 2020, an FAA-industry task force created to address the barriers to ADS-B equipage. The group has been instrumental in bringing together regulators, manufacturers, and aviation groups representing the end users to identify the key issues, and to begin finding ways to resolve them. AOPA continues to work with a variety of other groups focusing on this issue. We’ve joined forces with 13 other aviation organizations to lay our concerns before the FAA administrator. And we’ve held individual meetings with manufacturers to discuss the barriers to and opportunities for more affordable solutions.

The good news is that both the FAA and the avionics manufacturers have listened. They have come to understand just how important price is when it comes to getting a large segment of the GA fleet to equip. And they’ve been working with us to find solutions that make more sense for many aircraft owners.

The first lower-cost products have been announced with a price about half that of the least expensive ADS-B Out solutions that were previously available. And I’ve spoken with a number of other manufacturers who say they also have lower-cost options in the works. I appreciate their willingness to understand and adapt to the needs of this segment of aircraft owners.

And there may be other ways to help keep costs down, too. A&P mechanics can install ADS-B equipment with the proper training and an inspection authorization (IA) signoff. That has the potential to be a real money-saver for owners, especially if the installation is done during an annual inspection.

We’ll be installing a variety of ADS-B solutions in our own AOPA aircraft during the coming months, and we’ll share those experiences—including information about the cost and installation complexity—so you can learn right along with us.

And we’re still working to find more ways to bring costs down. As I write, we’re finalizing the details of a meeting among aviation groups and avionics manufacturers to take place at Sun ’n Fun, where we’ll talk about progress so far and what we need to do—and ask the FAA to do—in order to make more affordable options available to owners of all types of aircraft.

ADS-B is the way forward—that’s undeniable. And it can only truly be effective with full participation from all types of aircraft. We want aircraft owners to equip—but it has to make sense. And we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it does.

Email [email protected]

AOPA PresidentMark Baker became the association’s fifth president in September 2013.

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