While the U.S. deadline for ADS-B Out equipage took effect at the beginning of the year, aircraft operators are still steadily upgrading their aircraft to meet the mandate, with as many as 21,175 becoming compliant through the first five months of the year. “We knew there would be aircraft being equipped post-mandate and it certainly has materialized,” said Jens Hennig, GAMA v-p of operations and co-chair of the ADS-B Equip 2020 working group's general aviation subcommittee.
The ADS-B upgrades have continued through the pandemic, with 3,598 occurring in March, ebbing to 2,857 in April, and then increasing again to 3,146 in May. According to the FAA, the total number of general aviation aircraft with upgrades installed approached 100,000 in June and neared 90,000 of “good installs,” or those that meet the requirements.
“The momentum is still there,” Hennig told AIN. “People who held off and couldn’t get into the shop are now taking the necessary step to get their aircraft compliant.”
Hennig said he believes many of the installations this year involve those who own or operate piston, experimental, or rotary-wing aircraft. The airlines were nearly fully compliant as the deadline approached and business jets were well above the 90 percent range, particularly those that were more frequent users of ADS-B airspace.
The FAA did establish a tool to enable limited requests for flights involving unequipped aircraft through ADS-B airspace. By the second week of February, out of 70,000 flights a day, the agency was receiving somewhere around 100 daily requests for such latitude. Hennig said the small number of requests suggests “we have done our due diligence across the FAA and across the industry to get everybody who was going to be affected by the mandate compliant.”
Hennig added he had not heard of issues with groundings or violations of unequipped aircraft, either directly or through other organizations, but he noted he would be “one step away” from such complaints as a manufacturer representative.
One trend that has not materialized, though, is a retirement wave of older business aircraft that would be costly to upgrade. “I never believed in that hypothesis,” he said. While legacy aircraft might carry a lower book value, that is a value set by financial institutions, not the value of the aircraft to the owner. He said those aircraft serve their owners' needs and it would be much more cost-prohibitive to take them out of service and buy another aircraft. “The math didn’t add up,” he said.
Internationally, equipage continues. In Europe, where the soft deadline had been pushed to the end of the year (for either equipage or a plan to equip), newly delivered aircraft have high rates of compliance, shifting downward as the aircraft get older. Compliant aircraft on the oldest models fall in the 10- to 30 percent range, Hennig added.
As far as outstanding items, the FAA has yet to select private providers to manage the security protocol that went live in December. Under the protocol, operators can get a secure ICAO address that obscures the registration identity. The FAA has been managing the program but expects to select a private provider or providers sometime this summer. That plan appears to be still on schedule, Hennig said.