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ADS-B: It’s 2020, what now?

Tips for the equipped, and unequipped

It’s finally January 2, 2020—or darn close to it, anyway—and the FAA’s much-discussed ADS-B Out mandate is in effect. ADS-B uses GPS instead of ground-based radar to determine aircraft position, and is now required for operations in the airspace defined by FAR 91.225; generally speaking, this ADS-B rule airspace is where transponders long have been required.
The FAA’s ADS-B mandate becomes effective January 2, 2020. If your aircraft is already equipped and you have not requested a performance report, do so today so you can confirm your unit is operating properly.

What does this mean if your aircraft is not equipped with ADS-B Out? And what if it is? Here’s what you need to know.

Aircraft not equipped with ADS-B Out

If you need to fly into ADS-B rule airspace and your aircraft is not equipped with ADS-B Out, for whatever reason, you will be able to request an airspace authorization from the FAA online, at least one hour but not more than 24 hours in advance of your flight. Don’t call the ATC facility to ask, and don’t request access from a controller over the radio—the answer will be “no.” You will need to have an operational transponder. (Aircraft without engine-driven electrical systems are exempt from ADS-B.)

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.

The FAA developed an automation capability to manage ATC authorization requests, the ADS-B Deviation Authorization Preflight Tool or ADAPT (see “ADS-B: ADAPTing to 2020,” December 2019 AOPA Pilot). It’s based on the Service Availability Prediction Tool (SAPT). AOPA previewed the tool in October. As soon as the interface is finalized, AOPA will publish an up-to-date ADAPT fact sheet. If, after January 1, 2020, you need to request an airspace authorization, find that document on the AOPA website for step-by-step guidance through the process.

FAA automation will have the ability to detect non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft in ADS-B rule airspace, and a pilot caught flying in the airspace without the required equipment could encounter enforcement action.

Aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out

If you haven’t requested an FAA Public ADS-B Performance Report on your installation, do that today! Because of the nature of ADS-B, the ground test equipment at your avionics shop can’t test every operational parameter. You don’t need to make a special flight for this, either—simply request a report after any flight, even if it was several weeks ago. You do not need to fly in ADS-B rule airspace (that was a requirement only for FAA ADS-B rebate validation), or for any minimum amount of time—just fly within range of an FAA ground station.

The process is simple. Go to the FAA’s webpage for the report (, and enter your N number, email address, the date of a recent flight, and answer a few questions about your ADS-B hardware.

Although there is no requirement for you to do so, AOPA recommends that you obtain a performance report at least once each year—more often if you like. It’s the only way to be absolutely sure your system is working properly and is correctly configured. Print it out, and slip it into your airframe logbook. This will serve as a record that as of the date of the flight, your hardware met performance requirements.

The FAA monitors ADS-B performance and will reach out to aircraft owners when problems are detected. As of November 1, 2019, 8,187 U.S.-registered aircraft—almost 8 percent of the ADS-B Out-equipped fleet—had some type of ADS-B performance problem. Each of these represents a technical violation of the rules, and the FAA is actively contacting owners of aircraft with noncompliant installations, starting with those that pose the greatest problems to the system. These efforts are certain to continue in 2020.

If you haven’t requested an FAA Public ADS-B Performance Report on your installation, do that today. The ground test equipment at your avionics shop can’t test every operational parameter.The FAA is aware that aerobatic flight is a challenge for ADS-B, and has said there will be no penalties for ADS-B performance failures during aerobatic flight—although your ADS-B is expected to operate properly whenever the aircraft is in nonaerobatic flight. FAR 91.225(f) states that “each person operating an aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out must operate this equipment in the transmit mode at all times.” The only exception to this is for non-lead aircraft engaged in formation flight.

ADS-B is driving ATC system changes affecting all volunteer pilots using FAA-authorized call signs, including CMF for Compassion and ARF for animal rescue flights. Beginning Dec. 15, 2019, pilots can no longer use the current method of filing—for example, CMF combined with the last three digits of the aircraft registration number. Instead, the pilot must contact his or her volunteer flying organization(s) and be issued a unique call sign that’s assigned to the pilot, and not the aircraft.

The Air Care Alliance administers the CMF call sign, and will assign call signs to pilots flying for groups that have completed required paperwork. If you’re a volunteer pilot authorized to use a call sign, contact your organization for more information.

New and recurring questions

Several AOPA members report that avionics shop owners have told them 1090ES ADS-B Out will be required to cross the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone when returning to the United States. This information is incorrect. FAR 99.13 defines the transponder requirements for crossing the ADIZ, and makes no reference to ADS-B—much less the distinction between 1090ES and 978UAT. Formal rulemaking would be required to change the requirements.

Only transponders are required for a number of U.S. flight operations that as of yet do not have an accompanying ADS-B requirement, including VIP TFRs.

Other pilots say the FAA has told them ADS-B Out is required for operation in a TRSA (terminal radar service area). This, too, is not accurate; TRSAs comprise Class D and E airspace, where ADS-B is not required.

The FAA is working on an update to Advisory Circular 90-114A, Automatic Dependent Surveillance, which should be published in early 2020. It will provide needed clarification to other aspects of the technology.

Email [email protected]

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.

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