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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ADS-B Case Study: Equipping 100,000 Aircraft

The FAA estimates that nearly 100,000 aircraft will need to equip with ADS-B Out between now and 2020, but does the U.S. aviation industry have the time and resources to get them done in time?

By Woodrow Bellamy III

By Jan. 1, 2020, the FAA has mandated Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out equipage for all aircraft operating in the National Airspace System (NAS) above 10,000 feet, as well as for helicopters. Between the commercial air transport, business and general aviation segments, the agency has identified 100,000 aircraft that still require the ADS-B Out upgrade. Although the FAA first announced the mandate 2010 and completed the implementation of the ADS-B ground station network in 2014, in 2016 the total U.S.-registered fleet equipage rate remains significantly low. Will there be enough laborers, transponders, GPS units and shop space to accommodate equipage for aircraft in the six-figures over the next three-and-a half-years? Here, we dissect the numbers and talk to the individuals who are in the process of conducting ADS-B installations to find out.


Maintenance workers performing modification work. Photo: Elliot Aviation.
The FAA has identified a range of 5,000 to 6,000 commercial air carrier aircraft that still need ADS-B upgrades.

As of April 1, 2016, a total of 517 U.S. air carrier aircraft and 331 international air carrier aircraft are equipped with ADS-B Out, representing 8.6 percent of 5,000 total U.S. air carriers and 26.8 percent of international category commercial aircraft. Between June 1, 2016 and Jan. 1, 2020, there are only 1,675 days left for airlines to make the necessary changes to their planes.

Assuming U.S. and international air carriers equip at the same rates that they have in early 2016, the resources will be available for the majority of commercial airframes that require avionics upgrades to become compliant by the deadline. The equipage rates for U.S. and international air carriers for January and March are listed below:


Equipage Date Range

U.S. Air Carrier

Int. Air Carrier

Jan. 1-Feb. 1, 2016



Mar. 1-Apr. 1, 2016




In March, 70 international air carrier aircraft and 40 U.S. air carrier aircraft were equipped with ADS-B, equaling a combined 110 regularly operating U.S. and international air carrier aircraft that became ADS-B Out equipped. If airlines equip at a rate of 110 aircraft per month through Dec. 31, 2019, 4,730 total air carrier aircraft will be ADS-B Out compliant by the mandate deadline, leaving just 270 aircraft without ADS-B compliance before the mandate takes hold.

At the slower January rate of equipage, which was 38 ADS-B Out upgrades per month, over the next 43 months only 1,634 total international and U.S. air carrier aircraft will become ADS-B Out compliant by the mandate.

Assuming the average equipage rate would fall between these two ranges, a rate of 74 aircraft per month, 3,182 commercial aircraft will be ADS-B Out compliant by the mandate deadline. Leaving 1,818 commercial aircraft still requiring ADS-B Out avionics upgrades to fly in the NAS.

L3 Lynx Mode S transponder. Photo: L3.
There are also a few caveats commercial aircraft carriers should be aware of when it comes to modifying their aircraft for ADS-B Out. First, in 2015, the FAA’s Equip 2020 initiative established an agreement with airlines that requires airliner aircraft to equip with DO-260B compliant transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, but airlines can wire those transponders to older generation GPS units until 2025, as long as the airline has an FAA-approved plan in place to install rule-compliant GPS by that year. Second, most airlines have upgrade paths available to become at least transponder compliant by 2020, either through service bulletins introduced by the OEM or through agreements with aftermarket suppliers.

However, the FAA will still have to address several issues, such as, the fact that under the agency’s rule, an aircraft would not be allowed to fly if an ADS-B transponder failure light indicates that there is a problem with the system.

Business and GA

The FAA has identified between 100,000 and 160,000 total General Aviation (GA) aircraft that need upgrades to become ADS-B Out compliant. For the purposes of this case study, we will use the lowest end of that range, at 100,000 GA aircraft, which includes all categories of GA including rotorcraft, turbo prop, single engine and all categories of business aviation aircraft from mid-sized to high-end corporate jets.

Using the same criteria, with 1,675 total days and 43 months between June 1, 2016 and Jan. 1, 2020, let’s examine the equipage rates from early 2016, and what that would equate to going forward. Below are the equipage rates for general aviation aircraft for January and March of 2016:


Equipage Date Range

U.S. General Aviation

Int. General Aviation

Jan. 1-Feb. 1, 2016



Mar. 1-Apr. 1, 2016





In March 2016, operators had equipped a total of 950 combined U.S. and international GA aircraft with ADS-B Out-compliant solutions, a combined 8.2 percent of the U.S. and international GA fleet. Assuming that trend continues, if 950 U.S. and international GA aircraft are equipped with ADS-B Out per month over the next 43 months, 40,850 GA aircraft will be ADS-B Out compliant by the mandate deadline.

This leaves 59,150 GA aircraft that operators will need to equip upgrade for ADS-B Out.

“There was an uptick in installations last Spring when some of the lower cost solutions came out. We saw an uptick in the monthly stats, and that is flattening out a little bit, although we are seeing between 500 and 700 installations per month right now. That trend needs to continue and the pace needs to pick up if we want to stay out of what the FAA calls the danger zone, which is assuming the equipage rate stays flat. We would start to get in trouble around the 2018 to 2019 time frame [and] start to see real risk of aircraft needing to equip and not being able to equip because the shop time is going to start to jam up,” said Melissa Rudinger, vice president of government affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

MROs Weigh In

To get more information on the challenges associated with equipping 100,000 aircraft with ADS-B Out over the next 43 months, Avionics performed interviews with some of the industry’s well-known Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities, with a focus on those responsible for business and GA aircraft. Here’s what they had to say.

Banyan Air

Located at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE), Banyan Air Service is a Fixed Based Operator (FBO) capable of providing avionics upgrades and installations for Part 23, Part 25 and even some Boeing aircraft as well. Banyan has a total of 14 technicians — all capable of performing ADS-B Out upgrades — and the company has identified 264 Challenger business jets that require new avionics hardware to become compliant with the ADS-B mandate. The company is currently in the final stages of obtaining an approval for an ADS-B Out Standard Type Certificate (STC) for the Challenger 604, says Matthew Schepers, director of MRO sales at Banyan.

“There are a total of 340 avionics shops in the United States that can perform ADS-B upgrades. Based on the information that the FAA is reporting right now, that would lead to the need for three aircraft per week being upgraded,” said Schepers. Currently, Banyan does one to two ADS-B upgrades per month, but Schepers expects that to increase significantly starting in 2017. On Part 25 aircraft he estimates a four to seven week period for aircraft downtime needed to perform the upgrade, while Part 23 aircraft typically need one to two weeks.

“Shops are going to figure out how to accommodate as many people as they can, just like they did with [Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum] RVSM. But it’s not only going to be shop availability, but also parts availability and how well the avionics vendors can support this. They are going to have their own backlog. Lead times now may be two to four weeks, that may extend out to four to six weeks, which extends lead times and down times with the installer no matter who they use, whether it’s us or somebody else,” said Schepers.

Elliott Aviation

Elliott Aviation has three different locations with 30 total technicians approved to perform ADS-B Out compliance upgrades. The company primarily services high-performance Part 23 aircraft such as the King Air, up through mid-sized business jets and sometimes larger aircraft, such as the Dassault Falcon. Elliott Aviation has three different locations, although only one of them is dedicated to providing avionics modifications, with 30 technicians approved to perform ADS-B Out compliance upgrades. Elliott Aviation Vice President of Avionics Programs and Logistics Mark Wilken says that each aircraft they see is different, making it difficult to establish an average amount of aircraft downtime per upgrade, especially the King Air, which has had many avionics suites become available over the course of its life.

“It’s such a mixed bag on a King Air because there has been so many [aircraft] made, and so many avionics suites in there,” says Wilken. “I can tell you that, at a minimum, it could take 40 hours to put one in, but it could be 400 hours. Right now, the most popular thing we are doing on the King Air to make it ADS-B compliant is the Garmin G1000. You have to look at avionics equipment in two styles: remote mount equipment and panel mount equipment. There is panel mount retrofit solutions and remote mount solutions.”

As an example, the King Air B200 comes standardly equipped with a Pro Line 21 integrated avionics suite, and to get that aircraft into compliance, Elliott has to replace the remotely located Rockwell Collins TDR 94 transponders for TDR 500 transponders. The aircraft also needs a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) GPS sensor, as well as a converter box that reads the data coming out of the GPS and feeds it to an annunciator.

“For the B200, I have to put this annunciator in, I have to take interior out, it is an estimated 150 man hours to do something like that, to put the annunciator in and the converter box. I have to run wires from front to back because the transponders are in the back of the airplane and the GPS units are in the front of the airplane and that’s the only way to get the wiring done,” says Wilken.


Sabreliner is a Level 4 avionics facility and the OEM for Sabreliner business jets. They are capable of providing avionics modifications for all types of aircraft, with a particular focus on turbine powered aircraft weighing 6,500 pounds and up. Dave Miner, AeroVue program manager and operations director for Sabreliner, sees ADS-B solutions primarily in two ways, and gives estimated aircraft down times in two categories.

“The two buckets are with no hardware change, 50 to 75 hours, with hardware change, 100 to 200 hours. If I don’t have to change the baseline hardware, I just have to update it, it is much simpler than when I have to do a brand-new install. For example, the Lear 60 is a Rockwell Collins-equipped aircraft and Rockwell Collins is at the tip of the sphere, so the Lear 60s were typically equipped with [Traffic Collision Avoidance System] TCAS II from the factory with Rockwell Collins transponders, and there is a service bulletin and a heading reference system. So that aircraft has a service bulletin update, it takes very little effort and there are [Standard Type Certificates] STCs available, and you just do the work,” Miner says. More specifically, Sabreliner is not supporting the ADS-B as a fixture, but is rather trying to provide customers with solutions that address TCAS, and provide Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) functionality as well. Timing could become an issue for the Sabreliner fleet as well as the MRO. “When I looked at it in January, less than 15 percent of the fleet had complied with retrofit ADS-B. That was in January, I haven’t seen a ton of throughput on ADS-B. There are three Sabreliner aircraft that have been updated to ADS-B since January, I have four more going with another solution, but I’m telling you this fleet is dragging their feet looking for a better idea,” said Miner.

Sabreliner avoids certification delays for new solutions though, because it is part of the FAA’s STC Organizational Designation Authorization (ODA) program. Still, Miner is very familiar with how the combination of the ADS-B mandate along with regular routine certification work is overwhelming the FAA. “The FAA has a fixed finite amount of people in their engineering organizations and the projects are handled as they can. The volume of work required and the volume of solutions needed are absolutely overwhelming the FAA. When RVSM first came out, the same thing happened. They created a mandate, didn’t staff to understand it, and it caused a backlog in the solution. If they would take the approach to ADS-B with the same attitude and same perspective that they did for WAAS Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) and RVSM, then ADS-B would be much more of a non-issue. It bothers me that a transponder can be installed on a logbook entry but ADS-B requires an STC,” he says.


StandardAero is one of the largest business aviation MRO organizations in the United States, with four facilities throughout the nation. Across all facilities, the company recently completed its first certified ADS-B installation for an Embraer 650 Legacy business jet.

“It averaged around 150 man hours to be able to perform [the ADS-B installation for an Embraer 650 Legacy business jet]. That was technicians, quality folks, a little bit of engineering. On any ADS-B installation for us it typically takes about one to two people to be able to perform that task: the person working on the GPS and one on the transponders,” said Jerry Sanders, avionics product director for business aviation at StandardAero.

During the modification, StandardAero’s Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) facility had to send the aircraft’s GPS and transponders to Honeywell for upgrades, and also installed new GPS antennas and made some modifications to the radio tuning units as well. Timing wise, StandardAero has looked at trends in their installations and what they will be able to handle for ADS-B installations going forward. “I looked at trending data for last year and this year, we average about three aircraft per month for all four facilities. At our highest peak we were all the way up to about six aircraft per month, there was a month in February where we hit about six aircraft,” says Sanders.

StandardAero has identified that 1,700 aircraft it services need ADS-B upgrades, but has also found that it would not be able to support that number.

“I did some analysis. We looked at all the airplanes we typically see in our hangar, it was around 1,700 for the type of aircraft that we work on, so it does exclude anything newer than five years, only five years or older type aircraft, so that was just business jet airplanes of our type that we work on. There is going to be a definite crunch. It would take us 18 years to work off that number if we were the only installation facility. We do have a finite amount of space and room to take on aircraft. I looked at the max amount of work that we could do to work off that list and it would take us a very long time... and [ADS-B] is all that we would be doing,” says Sanders.


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