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Thursday, June 12, 2014

NextGen Mandate Remains Issue for General Aviation

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today June 12, 2014] The topic of the FAA's 2020 ADS-B Out mandate came to the forefront in Washington, D.C. where lawmakers listened to issues facing the General Aviation (GA) community's ability to equip aircraft with the certified avionics necessary to meet the mandate and continue flying after Jan. 1, 2020.

 
During a hearing held by the House committee on small business, lawmakers heard testimony from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, FreeFlight Systems CEO Tim Taylor and Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) President Paula Derks among others. The hearing provided excellent insight into the issues facing GA operators and pilots regarding their ability to upgrade their aircraft with certified ADS-B Out avionics. 
 
Prior to the hearing, Avionics Magazine discussed the issue with Taylor, who explained how his company improved its ADS-B Out solutions from the first generation versions to the current third generation products, packing what used to be a separate GPS receiver, radio and transponder interfacing unit into one box. Taylor also explained how if the current upgrade rate remains the same among the GA fleet in the United States, avionics shops will not be able to provide enough installations to get the entire fleet compliant with the mandate by 2020. 
 
"The math is slightly horrifying," said Taylor. "We have to do about 100 aircraft per day between now and January 1st, 2020 in the light GA sector. There is plenty of capacity to do that — there's no shortage of capacity or shortage of equipment — but if everybody waits until the middle of 2019, its going to be a different problem. You're not going to get capacity, you're not going to be able to get in line and prices will go up; Installation prices will go up, equipment prices will go up."
 
According to Taylor's testimony, there are nearly 200,000 GA aircraft in the United States today, and between 120,000 and 140,000 still need to be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics in order to meet the mandate by 2020. Currently, about 4,000 of those are equipped, with approximately 2,000 days remaining until Jan. 1, 2020. 
 
The FreeFlight Systems CEO said that one of the ways to influence more GA operators to equip with ADS-B Out is to increase the availability of low interest government-backed financing. One such option, the popular Nexa Capital NextGen GA equipage program provides low-interest commercial loans to the GA community backed by U.S. government loan guarantees. But Taylor said the program has faced delays, and once the funding becomes more available, more aircraft will be equipped. 
 
GA end users tend to agree with that sentiment. During the hearing, Bob Hepp, owner of the Virginia-based Aviation Adventures flight training school, said he estimates the cost of equipping his fleet of 39 aircraft, which range from Cessna 172s to Twin Comanches, would cost $312,000 and actually does not provide many benefits. 
 
"For most general aviation pilots, there are no direct benefits of the ADS-B Out mandate. Rather, complying will simply allow pilots to continue using the national airspace system as they do today," said Hepp. "Unlike investing in adding aircraft or facilities, the money spent on ADS-B Out equipment will not bring a return because it will not increase our customer base, allow us to serve more clients, provide new capabilities, or otherwise help grow the business. For that reason alone, it is not a sound business decision to equip early since there will be no return on investment."
 
Instead, Hepp advocated for the creation of a "fund to provide low-cost guaranteed loans" for the GA community. He said he would like to see more efficient point-to-point navigation, better routing through congested airspace and increased surveillance outside of the existing radar footprint. 
 
However, Taylor's testimony countered that argument, stating that the need for equipage goes beyond the cost barrier and is a safety issue of rate entire National Airspace System (NAS) where daily air traffic volumes have greatly increased since the creation of the legacy radar based system that the FAA has been using since the 1960s. 
 
Taylor also referred to recent "near-misses" at major airports in the United States, such as the two United Airlines aircraft that came within 0.87 miles of each other at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. According to an FAA report, there were 4,394 "near misses" in the fiscal year ending Sept. 1, 2012. 
 
"The nation’s air traffic controllers do an amazing job maintaining separation between aircraft. However, the tools they have at their disposal today have remained largely unchanged for decades, while capacity, aircraft performance, and aircraft mix are increasing dramatically," said Taylor. 
 

"Think of all the ADS-B aircraft, safely inside their small bubbles, flowing smoothly in and around an airport. One un-equipped or poorly-equipped aircraft enters the picture with a bubble that is tens of miles across, pushing everybody else out of position and disrupting the system until it is safely out of the way. To avoid that scenario, everybody has to equip, and to equip properly." 

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