With Congressional differences resolved, the FAA Reauthorization Bill has been signed by the President and is now a formal government act. A done deal, right? Well, perhaps not totally done. Those who read the October report of the FAA-sponsored Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) on implementation strategies for ADS-B in were certainly surprised to see that the bill called for in to be mandated in 2020, at the same time as ADS-B out.
In contrast, the ARC report, developed over almost two years and reflecting the views of both U.S. and foreign experts, concluded that a mandate would be premature until a number of technical issues have been solved and an acceptable business case developed for the user community. The ARC report suggested those might be achievable around 2030.
So how does one reconcile the separate dates? Two Congressional watchers AIN consulted offered conflicting opinions. One believes that the wording of a reauthorization bill, when turned into an Act of Congress by the President’s signature, becomes the law, with little or no changes allowed. The other stated that while that is true, there is always room to maneuver.
The wording of the Reauthorization Act does call for a formal rulemaking process, to begin 18 months after the Act becomes law. The rulemaking process that proposed the introduction of ADS-B out resulted in the FAA making significant changes as a result of industry objections to several of its proposals.
NBAA senior vice president for operations Steve Brown–who is also co-chair of the ARC–noted, “The FAA reauthorization bill calls for the FAA to initiate ‘a rulemaking activity’ addressing the ADS-B in mandate by 2020. Rulemaking activity is potentially broadly defined, so nothing has to happen for 18 months. Also, the rulemaking activity could call for continuing the Aviation Rulemaking Committee, to study the issue further. The rulemaking activity could also entail simply calling for putting out a proposal. The ARC is officially chartered until June this year, and the FAA could elect to continue the ARC after June, which would also probably meet the definition of ‘initiating a rule-making activity.’ The ARC will think about what’s in the legislation over the next four months, but in the meantime its members have clearly recommended that there not be a mandate any time soon, because there’s not a defined economic benefit for upgrading and the technology is not mature enough.”
Airlines for America vice president Tom Hendricks–who co-chairs the ARC with Brown–also noted that the ARC would still be meeting until June, and expressed his support for the ARC process and the industry consensus view it represents. He pointed out that the FAA will now be analyzing the exact language of the reauthorization, since the 2020 ADS-B in mandate came as a surprise to many.
Certainly, the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) will provide an opportunity to discuss the proposal’s details in depth with Congressional staff. There are some key issues, he added, that the FAA must resolve before ADS-B in can be launched, including standards covering safety, avionics certification and procedures.
Scott Foose, senior vice president for operations and safety at the Regional Airline Association, told AIN that the Congressional agreement on the FAA Reauthorization Bill represents a significant achievement. He also noted the act accelerates implementation of NextGen, forming a chief NextGen officer and requiring ADS-B out avionics by 2020.
AIN spoke to several FAA and industry people about the FAA authorization activity. Still unanswered is the question of why the ADS-B in mandate was introduced for 2020 in the first place, and who introduced it, since none of those AIN contacted even remotely suggested it. It is possible that the FAA’s public lack of differentiation between ADS-B out and in caused some less well informed person in Congress to ensure that, in the interests of safety, all aircraft, regardless of size or mission, should enjoy a controller’s view of traffic, with those neat cockpit displays showing all the other airplanes flying nearby. Regrettably, that person omitted to ask about the cost to operators and the time required to make it happen.