The FAA’s long-anticipated ADS-B Out mandate took effect on January 2, and by all accounts the formal implementation of the new aircraft surveillance technology appears to be going well.
About 120,000 U.S. civil aircraft were equipped when the mandate kicked in, said Jim Marks, the ADS-B focus team lead for the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, on January 28 at HAI Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California.
Marks said the FAA continues to prioritize problems with ADS-B, giving the highest priority to aircraft that broadcast hazardous information, and working with operators to correct issues.
“We actually had a ground stop at [Washington] Dulles Airport a couple of years ago for an RJ with kinematics,” a problem where ADS-B transmits erroneous position information. “It was so bad, we didn’t know where it was,” he said. “Trust me on this, if [your ADS-B] is doing anything really, really bad, your phone will ring pretty fast.”
Duke said the FAA has indicated that ADS-B compliance issues will be handled on an evolving basis, and that we’re at the very beginning of that process. The FAA is focused on pilot education and assisting pilots. The transition from compliance to enforcement will be gradual, he added, but the compliance philosophy will be utilized.
A recent update to FAA Order 2150.3C, the FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program handbook, includes matrices for inspectors to use in determining “appropriate” sanctions for an alleged ADS-B infraction. The one area where Duke expects the FAA to be serious from the start involves intentionally turning off an ADS-B system when an exception does not apply. According to the handbook, “operating an aircraft without activated transponder or ADS-B Out transmission (except as provided in FAR 91.225(f)) for purposes of evading detection” will generally warrant certificate revocation.
Other sanction guidance is assigned severity level one, two, or three, depending on whether the failure to comply with ADS-B Out rules resulted in “technical noncompliance,” a “possible effect on safety,” or a “likely effect on safety.”
“The FAA is focused on safety and security,” said Justine Harrison, AOPA general counsel. “They will view intentionally turning off your ADS-B unit as a safety and security issue. Pilots can easily make a misstep by turning off their transponder, and there are very limited circumstances which allow a pilot to do so.”
Civilian aircraft can turn off their ADS-B Out only if specifically instructed to do so by ATC, or if they are the non-lead aircraft in a formation flight, Duke said.
Regulations as operationally complex as the ADS-B rules can be rife with unintended consequences, Harrison added. “The warbird community had the foresight to identify issues that ADS-B could present in formation flight, and AOPA was able to help address it with the FAA. I expect the general aviation community will encounter unanticipated scenarios involving ADS-B challenges. AOPA encourages pilots who encounter challenges involving ADS-B to contact us and share the details, so we can identify and address issues on a system-wide basis.”
In certain cases, a waiver or exemption could be used to address an unusual situation, and AOPA is able to assist members with these processes.
Harrison said that the best thing a pilot can do is be informed. “AOPA’s robust online ADS-B resources for pilots are impressive,” she said. Any ADS-B questions not addressed there can be directed to our Pilot Information Center.