EU likely to require ADS-B out before U.S. mandate

 - December 1, 2008, 6:39 AM

At the Air Traffic Control Association’s annual November Convention in Washington, FAA director of surveillance and broadcast services Vincent Capezutto advised AIN that he expected that the final rule covering the mandated carriage of ADS-B out avionics will be published in April 2010. This is about 12 months later than the FAA had anticipated, but Capezutto believes that the original mandate date of Jan. 1, 2020, will most likely remain unchanged.

It will have been a long journey since September last year, when the FAA issued for public comment the original notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) calling for ADS-B installations by 2020. When the comment period ended in April this year, it was clear that the aviation industry–from ultralight owners to the major airlines–was virtually unanimous in opposing it.

The FAA then called on an independent industry group–the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), co-chaired by NBAA and the Air Transport Association–to assess the industry’s opposition to the NPRM’s requirements and recommend ways to reconcile their differences. In late September, the committee delivered a 260-page report that contained 31 specific recommendations, supported by extensive analysis. In October, the FAA invited public comments on the committee’s recommendations. This met with somewhat muted response, probably because many felt the committee had said all there was to say about the NPRM, and possibly also because of sheer battle fatigue over the issue.

For the next 16 months, therefore, there will be no more public involvement in determining the eventual shape or content of the final rule, which will be issued in 2010. During that period, the FAA will assess the ARC recommendations and modify the original NPRM as it sees fit.

One of the major issues with which the FAA must contend is enhancing the negative cost/benefit ratio of installing ADS-B out avionics that most operators, particularly those in general aviation, found hardest to swallow. At the present time it seems doubtful that the agency is likely to consider other than token financial incentives.

A significant part of the period will also be taken up by the final rule’s passage through the FAA’s legal branch, where agency lawyers must approve the document before it can be published in the Federal Register to become law.

An Earlier Deadline in Europe
In view of the FAA’s travails, it was therefore surprising to learn at the November Air Traffic Control Association Convention that legislators in the European Community intend to issue an NPRM for ADS-B out with a 2015 mandate. The guiding philosophy appears to be that since most European air traffic is composed of large airliners already equipped with mode-S “squitter” avionics, they will either already have the extended squitter capability required for ADS-B, or they can be modified to comply.

The proposed rule would mandate ADS-B out after 2012 for new airframes, and 2015 for retrofits. The EC’s proposal differs from the FAA’s in one key area: it will be limited to aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds and with cruise speeds of more than 250 knots.

European attendees at the convention expressed concern about the proposal, and they will be invited to comment on it. Bo Redeborn, Eurocontrol director of ATM strategies, told a technical panel in Washington that developing a business case for ADS-B out could be difficult for many operators. Other Europeans at the convention raised the same concern, and operators contacted after the event held a similar opinion.

There was also considerable skepticism about the exclusion of slower, lighter airplanes. As one put it, “ADS-B can be effective only if all aircraft are equipped,” while another pointed out that Europe has massive radar coverage and ADS-B out will not significantly improve the continent’s ATC capabilities. Furthermore, it appears that there is no plan to establish a continent-wide network of ADS-B ground stations, and those would be installed entirely at the discretion of individual European member nations.

All of the European operators AIN contacted agreed with their U.S. counterparts that the only satisfactory way ahead for ADS-B was in the adoption of ADS-B in, which will be essential for future air traffic management concepts such as merging and spacing, 4-D trajectories and other advanced techniques called for in both Sesar and NextGen.

It is clear that pressure for mandatory ADS-B out is now building much earlier in Europe than in the U.S., and operators who currently fly across the Atlantic, or plan to do so in the future, should monitor the NPRM process as it unfolds in Brussels.