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ADS-B: Starting in JanuaryADS-B: Starting in January

Things you must know about flying with ADS-B

What happens January 2, 2020, if your aircraft is not equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out and you need to fly into—or out of—airspace where the new surveillance technology is required?
Proficiency & Efficiency June 2019
Illustration by Shaw Nielsen

You’ll be able to request an airspace authorization from the FAA. Some information about the process was published April 1 in the Federal Register.While the title, “Statement of Policy for Authorizations to Operators of Aircraft that are Not Equipped With Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out Equipment,” is a mouthful, and despite the publication date, it is no April Fool’s joke. This document establishes the FAA’s policy for issuing air traffic control (ATC) authorizations to pilots flying aircraft not equipped with ADS-B Out equipment who want to access rule airspace after January 1, 2020.

ADS-B uses satellites instead of ground-based radar to determine aircraft location, and it is a key technology behind the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System. The FAA has mandated ADS-B Out for flights after January 1, 2020, generally in airspace where a transponder is required today.

The FAA policy primarily affects scheduled operators but also addresses general aviation operations. The agency said it is placing the burden for approving non-equipped aircraft operations in ADS-B rule airspace, defined by FAR 91.225, primarily on the aircraft operator—and not on the FAA. “To the maximum extent possible, operators of equipped aircraft should not be penalized or have their ATC services affected by operators who choose not to equip their aircraft with ADS-B Out equipment,” the agency wrote in the policy statement. “Therefore, an ATC authorization allowing an operator to deviate from the equipage requirements of [FAR] 91.225 must be requested and obtained prior to the operation.”

ADS-B rules require that the operator of an unequipped aircraft request an authorization at least one hour prior to the flight. The FAA will not issue in-flight authorizations to operators of non-equipped aircraft, nor will air traffic control facilities accept telephone requests.

Only if ADS-B Out equipment fails in flight will controllers be able to issue an airspace authorization to an airborne aircraft, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace and air traffic. Otherwise an authorization must be requested at least one hour in advance, through a website that is being developed. “We can expect the website for non-equipped authorizations to be available before 2020, likely by December,” he said.

The FAA is placing the burden for approving non-equipped aircraft operations in ADS-B rule airspace primarily on the aircraft operator—and not on the FAA.Operators of scheduled flights should not expect much in the way of accommodation. “Per-operation authorizations were not intended to support routine and regular operations of non-equipped aircraft in ADS-B Out airspace,” the FAA stated. “The FAA will not issue daily or routine authorizations for scheduled operations. While ATC will consider requests from scheduled operators, it is very unlikely to issue an authorization to a scheduled operator on more than an occasional basis and is most likely to issue an authorization when a compelling or unanticipated need to deviate from the ADS-B Out equipage requirements exists. “It will be difficult for unscheduled operators conducting operations at capacity-constrained airports to obtain authorizations. Given the complex and dynamic nature of operations within this airspace, it is unlikely that ATC will prioritize authorization requests for unequipped aircraft over providing air traffic services to aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out equipment,” the policy reads. “Unscheduled operators with a need to access this airspace on more than an occasional basis should equip with ADS-B Out to ensure no disruption to operations.”

An “unscheduled operator” is defined as any flight that does not meet FAR 110.2’s definition of scheduled operations, including Part 135 commercial operations as well as GA flights conducted under Part 91.

The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization is responsible for issuing preflight authorizations to unequipped aircraft under FAR 91.225(g), while its Aviation Safety organization will be responsible for post-flight oversight of the operations. The system will track both the issuance and denial of airspace authorization requests. Any pilot who operates a non-equipped aircraft in ADS-B airspace without obtaining a preflight authorization in accordance with FAR 91.225(g)(2) will be deemed to have violated the regulations.

AOPA is working closely with the FAA on the final policies that will govern non-equipped aircraft flying in close proximity to rule airspace. “We are making progress on ironing out the policy that will govern pilots and air traffic controllers should vectoring and other air traffic clearances require a pilot to fly into rule airspace without prior authorization,” Duke said. “It could be a safety issue, so we are working to ensure pilots and controllers do not unduly have their hands tied. If you regularly fly near rule airspace, it is a good idea to look at whether you need to equip.”

Other considerations

Pilots, especially renters who fly different aircraft, must clearly understand ADS-B rule airspace so they can avoid it when flying aircraft without ADS-B Out. Read the pilot’s guide, user manual, or flight manual supplement for installed ADS-B Out hardware. They will advise you to power on your ADS-B Out, and/or turn your transponder to the ALT setting, immediately after turning on the avionics.

This has been a challenge for pilots who learned years ago the memory aid, “Lights, Camera, Action” as they turned on the landing light and transponder while rolling onto the runway for takeoff. (The problem has been seen repeatedly in failed Public ADS-B Performance Reports received by aircraft owners attempting to validate their installation and qualify for the FAA’s rebate.) Many are surprised to learn this rule is nothing new; in Information for Operators 11012, dated May 23, 2011, the FAA advises airline pilots to “select transponder to the altitude reporting position during pushback.”

This is to ensure that aircraft are visible to ATC surface surveillance systems. (Aircraft with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, or TCAS, should wait until taking the active runway to select traffic advisory/resolution advisory mode.) Surface detection—and the time required for the associated GPS receiver to determine its position—are why ADS-B should be turned on before taxi, not immediately before takeoff.

AOPA has been receiving a lot of questions about the two ADS-B datalinks, 1090 MHz Extended Squitter (1090ES) and 978 MHz Universal Access Transceiver (978UAT). A 1090ES solution will be built into a Mode S transponder, while 978UAT is a remotely mounted unit that works in conjunction with an existing transponder. Both are approved in the United States; however, 1090ES is required above 18,000 feet and also is the only international standard—choose it if you plan to operate outside the U.S. border.

In general, 978UAT hardware costs less than 1090ES equipment. In most cases, however, the cost of installing a 978UAT product will be more than for a 1090ES transponder. When considering solutions, always compare installed costs, not just the price of the hardware.

Want to save $500 on your installation? In mid-April the FAA still had about 1,500 ADS-B rebates remaining. They’re available until October 11 or all have been reserved, whichever occurs first. For more information, see the website.

Email [email protected]

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.

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