HAI Convention News

Offshore helo operators urged to adopt ADS-B

 - March 15, 2007, 11:29 AM

The FAA made a hard sell yesterday to offshore oil operators that will soon have the opportunity to receive unprecedented traffic and weather information in the cockpit via ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) technology–if they equip their helicopters with special equipment that can receive and display
the information.

“If you put this equipment on your [aircraft], you will get priority service–like an HOV lane,” said Rick Castaldo, an FAA engineer working closely with FAA ADS-B program manager Vincent Capezzuto. “Aside from the air traffic benefit, this will help you manage your resources.”

Castaldo and others involved with the program, including HAI, understand that some operators might be skeptical. “Frankly, the public doesn’t believe the FAA when it says, ‘Trust us,’” Castaldo said. “We’re very sensitive to the cost.”

Patrick Graves, director of operations for Air Logistics, a Bristow company based in New Iberia, La., told HAI Convention News in a telephone interview prior to the show that it would cost about $324,000 (or $12,000 per aircraft) to equip the company’s 27 IFR-capable helicopters with the necessary avionics to use ADS-B.

“We want to prove the system,” said Graves, who is on the FAA’s ADS-B implementation committee. “We’re not going to commit to a 170-aircraft fleet upgrade until we’re sure that the system is going to work to our expectations and will remain funded.”

Castaldo assured those attending the briefing here that ADS-B will continue to be funded through its maturity. The FAA’s budget for the program through 2008 is $80 million, with private industry expected to contribute at least that much to the joint effort by providing the physical locations where the FAA will install its equipment.

The FAA plans to award a contract in July for the deployment of the necessary infrastructure, which includes up to 16 communications stations and 26 automated weather sensors that will be located on offshore oil and gas platforms.

According to HAI, there are 650 helicopters operating in the Gulf of Mexico supporting more than 5,000 offshore oil and gas platforms. These operators have historically been left to their own devices to keep track of aircraft and obtain weather information, using radio relays from other aircraft or cellphones.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is expected to be published in September requiring all aircraft to use ADS-B by 2020 as part of the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System. A final rule on the NPRM is expected in 2009. Castaldo said the FAA expects about 25 percent of the nation’s aircraft will be ADS-B-ready by 2014.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Castaldo said, but he added that early adoption by users is critical to the program’s success. “Everybody has to be equipped for this to work.”