Less than three years remain before civil aviation regulators in the U.S and Europe require aircraft in both regions to be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics. On June 14, experts from Aireon, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. (AOPA), the FAA, JetBlue and Honeywell discussed what challenges remain to upgrading aircraft that need upgrades for compliance and what future enhanced surveillance opportunities could mean for operators.
Through the first six months of 2017, the FAA is tracking an average of nearly 1,300 ADS-B installations per month across all segments, with a 7,500 total installations occurring during that time period. Breaking that down into segments:
Among U.S. carriers, a total of 1,118 aircraft out of the estimated 7,000 that need it have received ADS-B upgrades.
In the general aviation segment, only 26,414 of the estimated 100,000-160,000 GA airplanes that need ADS-B upgrades have received them.
At these rates, all of the aircraft that need ADS-B upgrades before Jan. 1, 2020 in the U.S. will not get them. This will become a greater issue if more operators decide to wait until 2019, when installation shops will reach capacity due to an influx of demand for equipage. Why are so many operators waiting to equip? What are the technological installation challenges still faced by the industry? It depends on you ask. But across the fixed wing community, there’s a split between segments, specifically commercial airlines and general aviation aircraft owners.
Melissa Rudinger, VP of Government Affairs for AOPA, said that while her organization is encouraging members to equip early, one the biggest reasons GA operators are not equipping is because there really is no business case for them to do so.
“AOPA is completely onboard, we’re reaching out everyday to members, but it is a tough sell,” said Rudinger. “The average general aviation aircraft owner operates an aircraft that is about 50 years old and has a value of about $30,000 or less. We have worked with the FAA on a rebate program and getting low cost options for aircraft owners that are cost sensitive, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
The other issue with general aviation owners, noted by James Linney, director of Air Traffic Systems for the FAA, is that although the FAA estimates that as many as 130,000 or more GA aircraft still need to equip, it’s possible that a number of them do not fly in airspace where ADS-B is required. According to the FAA’s Equip ADS-B guide, all operators within class A airspace must be equipped. In class B, from the ground up within the mode C ring. Class C also requires equipage from the ground up and class E airspace requires operators to equip if they fly above 10,000 feet MSL, but not below 2,500 feet above ground level.
From the perspective of avionics manufacturers, the availability of equipment will not be a problem, according to Carl Esposito, president of Electronic Solutions for Honeywell Aerospace. Esposito, who joined the panel featuring Rudinger and others, said the NextGen Advisory Council (NAC) recently polled avionics manufacturers to determine whether they have enough manufacturing capacity to build the number of transponders required to upgrade the remaining aircraft that still need them. The companies that were polled responded saying that they would, but that they’re concerned about the level of demand that is likely to occur in 2018 and 2019.
“There won’t be a capacity problem from an electronics perspective, but there could be a capacity problem from an installation perspective, in terms of the number of aircraft mechanics and technicians required," said Esposito. "We’re seeing in general aviation the length of time to get the aircraft in for an upgrade is already extending on the business aviation side."
A recent report on business jet equipage from Duncan Aviation confirmed that business jets are behind on ADS-B adoption, as the latest data they have shows that more than 10,000 business jets in the U.S. currently do not comply with the ADS-B Out mandate. As of March 31, some 73% of business jets in the U.S. have not yet equipped.
Commercial airlines in contrast have made the most progress among all civilian segments of the aviation community in terms of equipping with ADS-B.
Both American Airlines and JetBlue were represented on the RTCA ADS-B panel, and both carriers have plans in place to equip their fleet with ADS-B. Bart Roberts, VP of Operations for JetBlue, noted that the New York-based carrier is also considering whether or not it can formulate a business case for equipping its Airbus A320 fleet with controller to pilot data link communications (CPDLC) avionics.
Brian Will, director of Flight Operations Technical for American Airlines, said the Texas-based carrier made a decision with one segment of its older aircraft fleet to replace rather than upgrade.
“At American we’ve determined that two airplanes a day need to be in and out of hangars to get the airplanes ready by the 2020 mandate. we have a fleet of MD-80 and E190 aircraft that we ran the numbers on them we didn’t see the financial justification to equip those fleets so we’ve elected to retire those fleets prior to the Jan. 1, 2020 mandate,” said Will.
Joe Bertapelle, director of Strategic Airspace Programs at JetBlue, said he is also part of a working group with Will and several other airlines that are determining how they would be able to reduce separation between aircraft flying on certain routes if the FAA decides to adopt space-based ADS-B in the future.
Finally, the FAA is also working to address the ongoing problems with nonperforming emitters (NPE), a term the agency uses to refer to aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out that is not transmitting in compliance with FAR 91.227.
One main NPE issue identified by the FAA is that some aircraft are incorrectly transmitting as airframes that are between 15,500 to 75,500 pounds, when they should be transmitting at weighting less than 15,500. Others issues include incorrect software versions and improper system configuration, and issues that were simply the result of human error during the installation process.
“There are some performance issues with avionics, some were installed and not installed properly some were installed with no intention of installing properly, some were installed with little knowledge of proper installation,” said Linney.