FAA dragging its feet on ADS-B equipage fund

 - July 1, 2014, 2:55 AM

A June 11 Congressional House hearing on the FAA’s “2020 NextGen Mandate: Benefits and Challenges for General Aviation” reviewed the agency’s requirement that all U.S. civil aircraft carry ADS-B out units by Jan. 1, 2020, along with the vexing–to the FAA, at least–issue that aircraft owners are not rushing out to install them.

The job of marketing ADS-B to pilot-users has been made more difficult by the FAA’s unexplained foot-dragging in implementing the Congressionally authorized NextGen GA Fund, a public-private partnership tasked with giving owners a financial leg up to adopting ADS-B. The agency has seemed reluctant to announce details of the fund, causing owners to hesitate and spawning skepticism and speculation. As yet, the fund has made no discernible dent in today’s massive installation backlog, estimated at 167,000 aircraft still unequipped.

At the hearing, flight school operator and AOPA spokesman Bob Hepp testified that there is no incentive to equip early because the benefits of ADS-B out are unclear, since complying with the mandate simply allows pilots to continue flying in the NAS as they do today. To equip his flight schools’ aircraft would cost more than $300,000, for no obvious benefit. Tim Taylor of avionics producer FreeFlight Systems disagreed, pointing out that ADS-B out will enhance safety and NAS capacity by equipping ATC to deploy much more accurate separation standards, in today’s increasingly busy airspace. Taylor conceded that the backlog is serious, but so far manageable.

The backlog is not insuperable, Paula Derks, president of the Aircraft Electronics Association, told the hearing. Her association represents more than 900 certified avionics shops across the U.S., where, she stated, the NextGen Fund would allow rapid expansion of individual shops’ facilities to handle the backlog and, in so doing, enhance their long-term capabilities to the benefit of the industry at large. But there is an urgent need for clarity from the FAA on the NextGen Fund, she said, so that shops can move ahead.

From these and other comments outside the hearing, it is clear that until FAA clarifies its standing toward the GA Fund, sets out its terms and conditions and announces its implementation date, the backlog will continue to grow. Absent any deadline extension, many aircraft appear likely to be grounded on Jan. 1, 2020.