FAA, Industry in Push To Be Ready for ADS-B

 - December 5, 2019, 5:38 PM

As the 2020 ADS-B deadline approaches in just a few weeks, the FAA is putting in the final pieces in place to address privacy and security concerns, as well as to enable limited use of waivers.  At the same time, the agency and industry are beginning to turn to future capabilities, such as ADS-B In features and radar divestiture, said Jens Hennig, GAMA v-p of operations and co-chair of the ADS-B Equip 2020 working group's general aviation subcommittee.

The Equip 2020 group met this week to review the status of fleet equipage and what happens next surrounding ADS-B. As far as equipage, the FAA reports more than 102,000 U.S. aircraft now have properly installed ADS-B avionics, including 86,542 general aviation fixed-wing and rotorcraft operators. “The FAA continues to promote ADS-B equipage and is observing positive trends in the number of equipped aircraft,” the agency said.

FlightAware has reported that about 85 percent of the business turbine fleet was equipped by late October, a number that has been increasing a couple of percentage points each month. The FlightAware number factors aircraft that are tracked flying in airspace. Including all aircraft on the FAA Aircraft Registry, that number dipped lower, at about 74 percent as of mid-November.

But Hennig notes that business turbine equipage is further along at this point than when the RVSM mandate took effect in 2005. “We are in really, really good shape as the mandate rolls around. There will still be some aircraft upgraded as we enter into 2020, especially airplanes that fly only occasionally or others that waited until the very last minute to upgrade and have been looking around for slot availability,” he said.

On the lighter front, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) president and CEO Mark Baker noted that thousands of general aviation aircraft still must equip and conceded he was a little concerned. With more low-cost ADS-B-compatible systems now available, he sees operators still “cranking up” on equipage. But those seeking help from avionics shops likely will have to wait until next year. “You are not going to get in today,” he said

While equipage is ongoing, the FAA has been working with industry groups, including AOPA, to beta test a waiver process for operators flying aircraft not yet equipped. That process, the ADS-B Deviation Authorization Pre-flight Tool (ADAPT), is anticipated to roll out this month, the agency said. Requests must be made one hour in advance of the flight but no longer than 24 hours before the flight.

The tool will be simple to use, but Baker cautioned that the FAA’s intention is not to provide a flow of waivers. “I wouldn’t be optimistic about the second request or the third time,” he said and questioned the FAA’s ability to turn over a vast amount of requests. The program is designed to help operators to fly to locations where they could get upgraded or in other limited circumstances.

Hennig agreed and added that operators may find there are certain busy airports where waivers are not obtainable at all. “The policy is clear that unequipped aircraft cannot expect uninterrupted access to ADS-B airspace,” the FAA stressed.

In addition, the FAA is working to put a program in place surrounding assigned ICAO codes that decouple from aircraft registration numbers to protect the privacy of the aircraft. A temporary FAA-run program should be in place by the end of the month, but the agency has put out a request for proposals to transfer the program to a private vendor sometime next year.

As this is ongoing, Hennig said the 2020 mandate is just the start of the ADS-B program. The industry and the FAA are looking to expand ADS-B related services surrounding weather and situational awareness. Also, the FAA has begun to explore how it is going to move forward with radar divestiture. “The FAA didn’t want to finalize a plan until it had a better understanding of fleet equipage,” Hennig said but added now it can move forward on finalizing such a plan.

Further, he said conversations are ongoing for expanding three-nautical-mile separations, opening up new routes, and improving operational efficiency. And the FAA and industry are exploring how to complement ground-based ADS-B receivers with space-based where it makes sense, such as oceanic operations and operations in the Caribbean.