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NextGen for General Aviation: Addressing Cost, Modernizing and Improving Safety

By by Woodrow Bellamy III | April 1, 2015
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The 2020 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) mandate remains the central issue for General Aviation (GA). The government is currently working with the industry to address the cost of equipage, while also ensuring that the GA community is well educated on the required avionics necessary to make their individual aircraft compliant. Regulatory changes have also been enacted to provide operators with ideal solutions that fit the exact needs of their aircraft.

Cost and NextGen-Compliant Avionics

Business jet in the new Duncan maintenance hangar. Photo: Duncan Aviation

The cost of compliance is the leading issue for GA owners, operators and pilots. ADS-B Out equipage costs the average GA operator nearly $5,000 according to research data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Aircraft Owner’s Pilot’s Association (AOPA) and the FAA. But financing is starting to open up.

“Slow adoption of ADS-B is hampered by two main factors: financing availability for larger installs and price sensitivity of owners of smaller/older aircraft. The NextGen GA fund was established to address the former. A separate program, Jumpstart, was developed to help with costs at the lower end of the GA market,” says Michael Dyment, managing partner of Nexa Capital Partners.

Under the Jumpstart GA 2020 initiative, the NextGen GA Fund — a public-private partnership managed by Nexa — will make the 10,000 of the L-3 Lynx Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) solutions, available to ship to FAA-certified repair stations and distributors beginning in June 2015.

L-3 approached the ADS-B cost of equipage problem by analyzing different types of aircraft and their existing configurations, so that they could build an all-in-one solution that takes advantage of the NextGen flight environment, where Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs), Area Navigation (RNAV) and Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) approaches guide pilots safely into GA airports across the country. Lynx includes five different models, ranging from a broadcast-only to configurations specifically designed to deliver the benefits of the free Flight Information Broadcasting (FIS-B) and Traffic Information System Broadcasting (TIS-B) to cockpit displays or Wi-Fi enabled tablets.

“We wanted to design ADS-B solutions that didn’t assume all aircraft have an advanced cockpit panel. Without having to rely on a separate box for the required position, we have eliminated a possible connectivity issue. We also are not relying on existing aircraft configuration that may or may not have a GPS/WAAS [Wide Area Augmentation System],” says Gary Watson, director of business development for L-3. “When you’re looking for multiple display options on a budget, the iPad immediately comes to mind. Those who don’t have the latest and greatest in panel-mounted avionics can now view traffic and weather on their iPad with the Lynx Wi-Fi module. Most aviation apps also include a moving map and other features that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in the past.”

AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Advocacy Jim Coon’s latest research into the U.S.-registered GA fleet shows that at least 81,564, or 43 percent, of the 188,099 piston-powered fixed-wing, certified GA airplanes have an average retail value of $40,000 or less. The weighted average retail value of this segment is $25,865, which Coon says is “cost prohibitive for a large segment of GA.”

“As of Jan. 1, 2015 only about 9,000 general aviation aircraft had equipped to meet the FAA’s mandate. The high cost of equipage and the lack of certified solutions for some aircraft owners, as well as ongoing challenges for FAA as identified by a 2014 Department of Transportation Inspector General’s report all stand in the way of equipage by the general aviation fleet,” says Coon.

Avidyne CEO Dan Schwinn tells Avionics Magazine that, as a pilot and board member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), he feels the financial pain of avionics equipage for individual pilots.

“From an avionics supplier perspective, we have a wide range of products aimed at the middle of the market and we have a few more products planned,” says Schwinn, referring to Avidyne’s certified IFD-540 and IFD-440 position sources. Avidyne’s MLB-100 receives ADS-B In traffic and weather with a 978 MHz UAT.

“From an EAA perspective, it’s great that Garmin, Avidyne and others have these products, but from the cheapest supplier out there, a guy who has a low end airplane is looking at $4,000 to $5,000 to become compliant. That’s a lot for a $25,000 airplane, which has a total annual operating budget of $3,000. So that is an outstanding issue that needs to get addressed,” Schwinn adds.

Installing ADS-B

Among ADS-B solutions, there are three basic configurations, those adhering to DO-260, DO-260A and DO-260B. The three versions feature successive improvements in broadcasting the correct position of the airplane. “The DO-260B is the U.S. version, which is due in 2020,” says Mark Francetic, regional avionics sales manager for Duncan Aviation. “The earlier versions were due in Australia, Hong Kong, Hudson Bay and Singapore.”

Duncan, has partnered with avionics-makers including Garmin, True North, ICG, Gogo Biz, Satcom Direct and Honeywell to host NextGen seminars explaining what ADS-B avionics setup pilots require in order to make their aircraft DO-260B compliant. “The FAA has released in their memorandum that you could do those earlier ones on a field approval,” says Francetic.

From Jan. 1, 2015, there were 1,825 days to meet the deadline, with a 100,000 aircraft still in line to equip in order to operate as they currently do in today’s airspace, which would be nearly 89 installations per day to equip the fleet.

The FAA’s ADS-B website features a list of approved ADS-B Out model numbers with position sources and aircraft that have been approved for surveillance manufacturers. As of May 2014, that list included 21 different available solutions with associated position sources from ACSS, Honeywell, Trig-Avionics, FreeFlight, Garmin, NavWorx and Rockwell Collins. The FAA wants to ensure that operators have avionics installed that are approved because the risk associated with any GPS receiver is how far the position measurement can be in error without detection. Position errors that are too large do not allow Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) to provide safe separation between the aircraft broadcasting erroneous positions from other nearby aircraft. Owners should use the 14 CFR section 91.227 ADS-B avionics equipage requirements to determine what they need for their individual aircraft to become compliant.

As for aircraft downtime for installation, currently with a low monthly equipage rate, installation centers such as Florida-based Sarasota Avionics International, which is approved to install Garmin’s GDL 84 and 88, FreeFlight’s Ranger, and the L-3 Lynx, among others, are not seeing lengthy ADS-B installation times.

“For a typical ADS-B upgrade we are looking at about a week of downtime,” says Kirk Fryar, president of Sarasota Avionics. “A lot of people are waiting to see what comes out next to see if it will be cheaper. It does depend on what equipment you have on board so you can get the benefit of traffic and weather, those are the people that are doing it now.”


Technical Correction to Part 91 rule

In February, the FAA published a technical correction to the ADS-B Out final rule that was published in May 2010. The original rule established 91.225, which provides ADS-B avionics hardware required to operate in certain classes of airspace beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Under that rule, the agency required aircraft operating in Class A airspace to have installed avionics meeting the requirements of Technical Standard Order C166b (TSO-C166B).

That rule also requires aircraft operating below 18,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL), and in identified airspace subsequently in 91.225, to feature equipment that meets the requirements of TSO-C166b or TSO-C154c. The technical amendment to this rule, published on Feb. 9, states that the FAA is amending 91.225 to reflect that aircraft must feature equipment that meet the necessary performance requirements but not the actual type certification requirements of the TSO.

Schwinn of Avidyne tells Avionics Magazine, the technical correction was mostly the result of the Equip 2020 Working Group, a government-industry working group formed to address challenges to NextGen avionics equipage. “That is an important change to our amateur build guys at EAA,” says Schwinn. “Three months ago when we were looking at this, it was, in fact, impossible to legally get an amateur build aircraft to be compliant.”

According to Schwinn, Avidyne brought this flaw in the regulation to the FAA’s attention, and the agency quickly issued a technical correction that changed the language to indicate that experimental aircraft are required to have an ADS-B Solution that meets the certification requirements, while not necessarily being certified. By changing the language for the equipment requirements, the ADS-B Out rule is now reflective of other avionics rules where performance language is common, such as that included throughout Part 91 Subpart C (Equipment, Instrument and Certificate Requirements).

While the rule change now provides more clarity, it is difficult to measure exactly how it impacts many aircraft and operators. EAA estimates nearly 30,000 GA aircraft can be categorized as experimental amateur aircraft, which typically do not feature type-certificated avionics. But whether or not an aircraft actually needs the installation is based upon the type of flying that operator does today, and wants to continue doing in 2020 and beyond.


NextGen GA Benefits

Cessna 182 cockpit upgraded with Avidyne’s IDF440/IDF540 FMS/GPS/NAV/COM, a common GA aircraft with an upgraded cockpit that makes it compliant with the ADS-B mandate. Photo: Avidyne.

While ADS-B cost and equipage is a central focus right now, there are numerous benefits that the overall shift from ground-based radar and navigational aids to satellite-based procedures and surveillance brings to the GA community. For example, by using the WAAS, GA aircraft can take advantage of NextGen procedures at more than 3,000 runway ends in poor visibility conditions with landing minimums as low as 200 feet above the runway. LPV approaches take advantage of WAAS lateral and vertical guidance accuracy to provide approaches with minimums similar to Category I ILS. GA pilots that have instrument ratings will see the biggest benefits, according to Schwinn.

“If you’re an [Instrument Flight Rules] IFR flyer, IFR GA flyer, you’re going to see some benefits, somewhat subtle. You get better radar coverage, and better traffic calls. You also should experience less delays, because controllers can place two ADS-B guys into an airspace with no radar coverage that may have ADS-B coverage,” Schwinn says. “Most of NextGen is really air traffic control and fundamentally leading to improvements in separation capability. If you’re flying [Visual Flight Rules] VFR, you’re not using that capability. If you’re flying IFR you’re going to be able to get some better routing, because the controller has a better idea of your flight envelope than they do with radar coverage.”

During his presentation on NextGen for the GA community at the annual GAMA State of the Industry event, new GAMA Chairman of the Board and current Hartzell Propeller President Joe Brown captured NextGen’s GA benefits most accurately. Brown, who is also a pilot, believes NextGen avionics equipage leads to a safer overall airspace most notably with improved see and avoid capabilities for pilots.

“I don’t subscribe to the big sky theory of piloting, I subscribe to the small sky theory, which means, its not going to get any better,” says Brown. “[Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] UAVs are coming into the marketplace, we’re going to have to figure out how to have more aircraft operating in the same space. We’ve had scares, and we’ve had fatalities that ADS-B traffic would clearly help avoid. Now what’s interesting is pilots can cut into ADS-B at more than one level, they can cut in as a meet-the-mandate only operator. They can be seen and others can see them. But those of us who option for all of it, can make everybody safer through see and avoid.”

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