The ADS-B-Out Mandate: Too much, too soon?

 - June 4, 2014, 2:50 AM

By now, all corporate and most general aviation aircraft owners are aware that by Jan. 1, 2020, their aircraft must carry an approved installation of an ADS-B out transmitter and an appropriate Waas receiver. And also by now, owners will probably have read accounts, or have been advised by their avionics suppliers and installers, that even with five-and-a-half years to go, booking installation dates to meet the deadline is getting tight.

As of April, there were 4,410 completed ADS-B installations, including both the 1090 MHz “airline class” units–mandated when flying above 18,000 feet–and the more economical UAT general aviation units, spread across the U.S. general aviation fleet of 209,000 active aircraft, all of which must be equipped, according to Jens Hennig, v-p of operations at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Of that total, 11,700 are business jets. Corporate turboprop and piston airplanes and helicopters account for an unspecified number. Simply put, there’s a big backlog out there covering a broad spectrum of aircraft. Melissa Rudiger, AOPA v-p for government affairs, believes that equipment mandates are not always appropriate, particularly when applied to the diverse interests across the general aviation community. “The FAA’s challenge is to show our members that ADS-B can provide new benefits consistent with their investments, as GPS, for example, already does,” she noted.

Mandate Tsunami

When the FAA announced the 2020 ADS-B deadline in May 2010, government bureaucrats probably felt that 10 years’ notice would allow more than enough time for operators to comply with the mandate. Yet realistically, few could be expected to buy an electronic device in 2010 that faced increasing obsolescence–and the introduction of cheaper, better versions over the next 10 years–before it was actually needed. Waiting a few years seemed like a prudent move, but in this case, it simply proved that linking distant mandates with the fast-moving electronics industry is archaic.

But now that the future crunch is becoming apparent, will owners who can’t get an installation date before Jan. 1, 2020, be faced with a grounded aircraft until the work can be done? One supervisor of a major avionics company with an almost full appointment book, who preferred not to be identified, told AIN that he hopes the mandate date will be moved, but believes any extension would probably not be for longer than two or three years. An official at a large airline stated that a sister company is requesting an 18-month exemption from the FAA to accommodate delivery delays in new aircraft it has ordered. While the new aircraft would be delivered with ADS-B and Waas installed, their arrival was originally planned to allow the retirement of older 737s and 767s well before Jan. 1, 2020. Keeping those legacy airframes in service would “cost millions” in retrofit and lease costs, which the manufacturer of their replacements was unlikely to cover.

As for business aviation, NBAA COO Steve Brown , said, “Current installation trends indicate that some aircraft may not be equipped by the 2020 deadline either by owner choice or by a shortfall in shop capacity. NBAA continues to encourage its members to plan carefully for the transition to ensure they can access the airspace and airports necessary for their type of operations by 2020.”

So far, the FAA is tight-lipped on extending the date, but the pressure on the agency to do so seems likely to increase as 2020 draws closer. Indeed, as one wag put it, “What’s the difference? Most NextGen programs are notoriously late anyway, and the FAA certainly won’t be introducing ADS-B out procedures on January 2, 2020.” He has a point. Unquestionably, the FAA and attendant politicos would win major kudos from the missed-mandate community if it were to dust off its once vaunted mantra of “best equipped, best served” while the latecomers caught up.

Certification and Costs

On certification, ADS-B UAT/Waas retrofit installations in selected groups of single-engine Part 23 general aviation types have already been STC’d via FAA approved model lists (AML), with a typical Part 23 installation costing approximately $20,000, including the avionic units. However, that process is not available for Part 25 aircraft retrofits requiring a 1090 ADS-B unit, Waas and an individual STC. There, a typical Part 25 retrofit in a five-year-old corporate jet, including avionics and a new STC, is likely to cost $25,000 or more, depending on its previous avionics configuration; anything older than five years is anyone’s guess. And the bigger the aircraft, the costlier it becomes. Several years ago, before the ADS-B out mandate was announced in 2010, Boeing estimated that retrofitting a typical medium-size airline twin would be around $500,000. But times have changed.

Next Stop, ADS-B in

An ADS-B in mandate is several years–perhaps as many as 10–away. But it is coming, since ADS-B out is the necessary stepping stone to future full airspace integration with ADS-B in. Today’s out element simply says “I’m here,” along with a brief burst of flight data, to ATC and the occasional early in user, but it tells its owner absolutely nothing, unless he or she has a general aviation UAT unit that provides weather and traffic data. However, ADS-B in provides a wide variety of data, including proximate traffic and advanced NextGen procedures. Expected just a few years ago to require a dedicated panel display, along with a costly panel modification, ADS-B in is already appearing on pilots’ iPads, again demonstrating the unstoppable innovative power of the electronics industry.

Tcas Congestion from ADS-B

Nevertheless, there are growing concerns about the increasing congestion of ADS-B’s 1090 MHz frequency, which it shares with Tcas. Warnings of its potential impact were given in FAA internal briefings as far back as 2006 and, much more recently, there have been reports of Tcas range limiting in high-density airspace. Consequently, there is quiet nervousness in some quarters about the possible effects on Tcas that the introduction of a large segment of the estimated 100,000-plus new entrants to 1090 MHz ADS-B out will bring. A new FAA report on 1090 MHz congestion and system performance out to 2035 is expected in July. The outcome, of course, remains to be seen, but the possible need eventually to move ADS-B to another frequency cannot be ignored. Also, the DoT Inspector General is investigating certain security aspects of the system.

In summary, however, the current international introduction of ADS-B out is an important step forward in both increased airspace capacity and safety, while bearing in mind that the end objective must be universal ADS-B in, to reap the full benefits of the system.


Come on.  ABS-B in and out is awesome.  I installed it pretty quickly and for about $1,000, not $25,000.  Took about a day but I did it myself.  I don't believe anything in the article.


Wow! what a silly article. You can't get your plane scheduled in the next 5-1/2 years to install some avionics? I'd like to see one case where that is true.


Since the market is quite limited right now (UAT's and transponders), there may be a shortage. One would hope the market would continue to open up as soon as manufacturers realize there is money to be made. Buying today insures you will pay too much, and be out of date when the deadline appears. 


ADS-B in is easy and cheap today (under $100 if you own a tablet ADS/B out should really be only slightly more expensive (look you are gonna sell 100K units in the next 5 years, the BOM is probably $100/unit, certification costs maybe $1Mil or $10/unit at the 100K volume).  


Lets get what we need when we need it.


(Oh BTW, Jet Blue might be the only airline that is ADS/B out in the domestic fleet, but they were subsidized, the rest of the airlines are not rushing either).

I spoke to the owner and foreman of my local avionics shop here on Long Island, NY.  "How's business?" I asked.

"Slow," answered the shop foreman while the shop owner was silent.

"No ADS-B installs?" I asked.

"Everyone's waiting for prices to come down or at least until there's some used equipment on sale on eBay."

So much for the difficulty of getting an installation slot.  Like all GA related businesses, it's a slow-go in avionics.

Just a guess but I suspect that unless the government provides some reasonable financing options we're going to see at least 40,000 planes getting parted out and a number of flying schools calling it quits. 

In the former case, it's a difficult sell asking an owner of a $30,000 Cherokee to put another six grand into the plane with very little of that six grand recoverable at resale time. To put it another way a $30,000 plane without ADS-B will remain a $30,000 plane with ADS-B.

In the latter case, most flying schools are only marginally profitable as things are right now.  Their asking students to fork over extra rental fees to pay for the ADS-B is not going to work.

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