Commercial Aviation

General Aviation Dodges a Bullet

There is a growing push among airlines, labor unions and other aviation stakeholders to dramatically reshape how the nation’s airspace is controlled and who controls it.

Fortunately, the Senate has again deemed that the U.S. is not yet ready for the privatization of our airspace. In a move this week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has passed a bill that reauthorizes the FAA without privatization and user fees, but only for the short-term through the end of Fiscal Year 2017, so the immediate threat has been stopped but the issue is not dead.  The push to privatize the FAA and add user fees to the funding mix will likely reemerge – and each time it does, there seems to be more support behind it.

Support for ATC privatization is universal among airlines, except for Delta Airlines. “There is simply no compelling reason to change such a critical system that works so very well,” Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson wrote in testimony to the House Transportation Committee last month. “Indeed, this bill feels like an experiment. Our nation’s air traffic control system is too important—to public safety, economic growth and national security—and working too well for such an experiment to be prudent.”

The main criticism of the FAA is that its lethargic bureaucracy has been slow to modernize the U.S. airspace by implementing the new air traffic control system (NextGEN) which Congress authorized back in 2003. This criticism is valid, but clearly can be linked to inconsistent funding of the FAA from a dysfunctional Congress, which has resorted to short-term federal funding for the FAA 23 times in the past several years. Putting that issue aside, the FAA’s primary responsibility is to oversee the world’s largest, busiest and most congested airspace. In this regard, the FAA has done a great job statistically as U.S. aviation is the safest in the world.

Despite this fact, Senator Bill Schuster (R-PA.), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is drafting legislation which would turn over control of the nation’s airspace to a chartered, non-profit monopoly that would implement user fees to fund its operation and float bonds to build a new air traffic infrastructure and modernize the system. Schuster’s plan is modeled after Nav Canada, a non-governmental entity that handles less than one-tenth the air traffic volume in the U.S.

What’s really at stake here?

As the nation’s national debt continues to grow to perilous levels, Congress is looking for ways to cut budgets, reduce deficit spending and limit government oversight as much as possible. In the case of the FAA, this is shortsighted and perhaps even dangerous. Proponents of ATC privatization want the FAA to regulate safety, but not oversee or manage the air traffic control system, its facilities or personnel – as if safety and air traffic control were somehow separate.

The proposal calls for the creation of a quasi-private/public entity. If you aren’t as skeptical about government-created, non-profit corporations as we are, you should be. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, The Port Authority of New York and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority are just a few dismal examples.

Historically, these entities become bloated, wasteful and politically corrupt. Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s sub-prime lending policies contributed to the mortgage collapse in 2007/08. Moreover, the ever-escalating subway fares and bridge tolls in New York City over the past decade will tell you exactly what a non-profit overseer can do to your wallet.

Bottom line? A FAA dependent upon “user fees” for revenue will add more cost to flying and will be ineffective in generating additional revenue, because any new revenue will be swallowed up by a completely new bureaucracy that would be created to charge, collect, distribute and enforce fees. These additional people won’t be air traffic controllers, but instead toll takers.

What is it really all about? Money, Principle, Safety?

132 million flights are handled by U.S. controllers annually. The U.S. also has 80% of the busiest airports in the world along with the best safety record. As we said earlier, the FAA is doing a good job.

The public seems to agree. Recently the Global Strategy Group polled 801 registered voters across the U.S.to gauge public sentiment about privatizing the air traffic system. Nearly 2 out of 3 do not want privatization because they view the U.S. air traffic system as working well. Even among voters who usually favor privatization of government functions, there is a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” sentiment when it comes to our current air traffic system.

Putting the safety issue aside, some privatization advocates argue that air traffic control shouldn’t be in the hands of a regulatory agency such as the FAA, especially one so perniciously micromanaged by Congress. They see air traffic as purely operational and not requiring government oversight. They argue that air traffic is a high-tech service which should be run like a business (we all know how much business puts safety above profits!).

More things to ponder.

Because we have been unabashed about our skepticism of privatization from the outset of this article, we would like to share some concerns that we and other like-minded aviation folk have about the plan. Consider:

  • At risk would also be funding for general aviation and smaller airports – the concern being that large air carriers would funnel more funding to larger airports and hubs.
  • The public airspace belongs to the American public at large and we need to ensure that it continues to operate for the public’s benefit — not just for powerful and influential special interest groups.
  • The current fuel per gallon tax is the most efficient, cost effective, least bureaucratic and most fair means to pay for ATC and the airspace system.
  • Europe, Canada and New Zealand employ user fees. Users of these systems frequently complain of delayed and inaccurate billing, as well as being “blocked” from the airspace during certain day parts.
  • Delta Airlines (the only major airline that has voiced concern about the user-fees and the safety of privatization) states it costs them over $100 per flight segment to process user fees – a cost that will be passed on to the flying public.
  • Canada and Europe claim to be equally as safe, if not safer than the US system. To say “as safe or safer” is misleading as the U.S. ATC system handles far more air traffic than Canada and Europe combined. Canada’s daily air traffic control amounts to the same number of flights controlled in Illinois on a daily basis.
  • Proponents of a privatized ATC system state that it will cost less to operate. Yet, our ATC system has never “shut down” due to a lack of funding, even during the darkest of economic days. In Europe, the privatized ATC system has been “bailed out” 3 times during economic downturns, and still operates under tremendous financial strain.

We are the first to agree that the FAA must operate more efficiently – but the key to that is maintaining Congressional oversight and retaining fuel taxes in order to protect the interests of all stakeholders, communities and airports — large and small.

The national airspace belongs to all of us. Let’s not turn our skies into a toll-road only special interests can afford to use.

Plug and Fly: Greener, Cleaner Skies Ahead

They say history has a habit of repeating itself. We can only hope that when it does, we learn something new from it that propels us forward and not backward. 2015 has been a year of remarkable feats for solar powered and electric powered aircraft.  Some of these feats seem quaint and evoke a simpler time in aviation’s infancy, others seem remarkable breakthroughs. In either case, they point to a future in aviation that could usher in a greener, quieter and cleaner way to travel aloft.

Trying to harness electricity for flight is nothing new.  You can trace it back to two nineteenth century French army officers named Renard and Krebs. They had the audacity to power a hydrogen-filled dirigible with several large and heavy 8-horsepower batteries.  The result was something stunning for its time – a take off, a short flight and then a return to the point of departure!

Everything Old Is New Again.

Newscasts in the summer of 2015 were filled with a tale of a global circumnavigation by a long-winged, very slow aircraft called Solar Impulse. Using a wing impregnated with photovoltaic solar cells, Solar Impulse set forth on a journey around the globe, something earlier aviators already accomplished. The difference this time, of course, is the energy source. Solar Impulse propels itself without a carbon trace, without adding a single pollutant to the atmosphere.

Similarly, two aerial crossings of the English Channel made news in July, Hugues Duval’s Cr-Cri twin-engine craft and Airbus’ E-Fan prototype. Since this sort of thing hasn’t been news since Louis Bleriot did it in 1909 in a piston-powered monoplane, the only thing that makes it newsworthy today is the power source that propelled these aircrafts across the storied water boundary between England and France –lithium battery powered electric engines.

In terms of records, a technicality knocked the Cri-Cri flight out of the record books for being first, and another proposed English Channel crossing by the Pipistrel Light Sport Aircraft Company was foiled by its own engine manufacturer, Siemens, who refused to permit it. That put the Airbus E-Fan into the record books as the first electric powered aircraft to officially cross the Channel and allowed Airbus to collect the $1500 prize from The Daily Mail – a paltry sum compared to the millions Airbus sunk into creating the  E-Fan.

Also in 2015, a single-seat solar powered aircraft flew from Germany to Austria and back. The flight took about three hours. On July 4th, the University of Stuttgart launched an electric flight across the Alps in an electric powered aircraft. The craft landed, the pilots recharged the batteries, and flew back.

So What And Who Cares?

The practical among us are likely to dismiss these feats as mere novelties. The futurists among us, however, are hopeful these small victories point to a new golden age in aviation.

In case you were wondering what benefits electric flight holds, here are a few:

  • Little to no carbon footprint
  • Lower operating costs
  • Less noise pollution
  • Quiet in-cabin, in-flight noise
  • Smoother engine operation with less vibration
  • Engine rotation speeds at 2500 RPM requiring no reduction gears

In a 2009 article written by Peter Garrison for Air & Space, the author points out that experimentation in electric flight has been going on in earnest since the 1970’s. In those days the pioneers came from the ranks of radio controlled model aircraft enthusiasts such as Robert Boucher and Paul MacCready. Working together, they created an aircraft called Solar Challenger, a battery-less solar aircraft that captured enough sunlight to take off and fly.

Today’s electric powered flight enthusiasts tend to have more household names such as Elon Musk. Mr. Musk sees an electric air age well beyond the unmanned solar powered aircraft of the seventies or even today’s LSA-style electrics that carry only two people.  Mr. Musk’s vision stretches out to a horizon that puts hybrid electric power to work on the next generation of supersonic transports.

Is Elon Musk’s vision even possible?

Boeing and Airbus certainly think so.

Boeing is working in conjunction with the University of Cambridge to develop a hybrid propulsion system that works much like an electric car. The fossil-fuel side of the engine gets you into the air; the electric side keeps you cruising along until you have to come down to earth again.

Similarly, Airbus didn’t just cross the English Channel this year to prove it could be done; they crossed it because they’re working towards an electric driven airliner by 2050.

Until fairly recently, the problem with solar or electric driven engines has been insufficient power, weight and limited range. The solar and electric powered flights of 2015 have proven these barriers have been broken. How significantly have the barriers been breached? It is certainly now possible to develop a two-seat training aircraft like the Airbus E-Fan that can stay aloft long enough to get a student through an hour or so of basic maneuvers and landings. The reason there are not fleets of electric trainers at flying schools already has more to do with FAA regulations than it does with the science of electric flight (more on that in a moment).

One of the big problems has been weight. In 2014, Dr. Paul Robertson of the Cambridge Department of engineering said, “what’s been holding back the development of hybrid or fully-electric aircraft until now is battery technology… they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity… but with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries {they} are now starting to become viable.”

The problem beyond battery weight has also been building an electric engine with enough gusto to get past the LSA weight-class of aircraft that crossed the English Channel this year?  If you thought developing a more powerful electric aircraft engine was still several years away, think again. In the late spring of 2015, Siemens announced a significant breakthrough in electric aircraft technology. They’ve developed a new electric engine which weighs just over 100 pounds but delivers the power output of a 350 horsepower gasoline-fueled piston aircraft engine.

The implications? The next flight across the English Channel could take place in a much heavier aircraft, one as heavy as 4,000 pounds. Suddenly 100LL begins to look a silly way to power ourselves across the sky in small planes and even on some commuter airlines.

To that point, Cape Cod regional airline, Cape Air, is working with NASA to develop an electric Cessna 402 to transport 9 passengers to nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Of course, if you won’t be satisfied until you cross the country or the Atlantic in a hybrid electric plane, be patient. NASA, Boeing and Airbus are quickly working on the next generation of electric engines and electric power sources.  Why? Because airlines, governments and the traveling public need a cheaper, greener way to get from point A to point B in an atmosphere of increased environmental concerns.

Why Aren’t More Electric Planes Flying Now?

The Airbus E-Fan has proven what many aviation experts think is possible – a light weight, cheaper and greener trainer that could lower the cost of learning as well as the operational costs of running a flight school. So what’s stopping more LSA manufacturers from putting those electric engines into their latest models and shipping them out to flight schools across the U.S.?  The answer is the FAA.

When the rule was being written for Light Sport aircraft in 2004, there were no such electric motor possibilities available. Therefore, the FAA limited light sport aircraft to a “single, reciprocating engine, if powered.” These five little words stand in the way of a plethora of lightweight electric trainers which could reduce the cost of learning to fly by thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, the FAA is already at work changing the rules for electric power plants in bigger certified GA aircraft. The LSA industry is naturally hoping that those changes will lead to changes for them as well.

One industry heavyweight, Greg Bowles of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association is one of those betting on electric flight’s future. He says, “While pure battery-electric flight may be a ways off for bigger airplanes, there’s a lot of interest in developing hybrid systems once the new rules are in place.“

The Final Word: Necessity

They say there are no problems, only opportunities. Aviation is one arena were barriers are always being broken. Twentieth Century aviation proved it time and time again. From the time the Wright Flyer first flew, to the first DC-3 was a span of less than three decades, and from the DC-3 to a man on the moon less than four. Just as the piston engine gave way to jet propulsion, the polluting fossil-fuel hungry engines of today will be replaced by the greener, cleaner and more efficient electric engines of tomorrow. Why? Because we absolutely need to make it happen.

Flight Simulators – As Good As The Real Thing?

Flight Simulators. Are they as good as flying in actual aircraft? It depends on which type of simulator used.

In many respects advanced flight simulators are better than the real thing!

Simulators are not created equal. They range from full motion airline simulators to PC desktop train devices.

Simulators are not created equal. They range from full motion airline simulators to PC desktop train devices.

Anyone who has ever folded a piece of paper into simple wings and a fuselage and then tossed it into the air has simulated flight. In fact, what you’ve actually created is a system that flies. Since the early days of aviation, models and simulators have been used to demonstrate the principles of flight, and teach potential airmen flight mechanics and procedures.

The Link Trainer was widely used to train pilots during WWII

The Link Trainer introduced instrument flying to thousands of World War II airmen.

The first widely used flight-training device, the Link simulator, was created by Edward Link, an amateur pilot and pipe organ maker. He patented his device in the late 1920s, but didn’t get any real orders until the U.S. Army Air Force was charged with delivering mail in the mid-1930s and needed to train pilots to make deliveries in all kinds of weather.

Mr. Link impressed his new clients by flying to Newark airfield in less than perfect flying conditions and attributing his ability to fly in the soup to “training” in his patented simulator. The pitch worked and the Army Air Force used the Link simulator to train pilots through the Second World War.

While the Link simulator had the basic appearance of an arcade ride, it was far from it, and successfully introduced thousands of student airmen to the feel of flight controls, to usual and unusual flight attitudes and oriented them (or disorient them) to the rigors of instrument flying while under its hooded canopy.

Today’s simulators:  digital, sophisticated and, of course, regulated.

In this era of virtual reality, the modern simulator not only puts you inside the cockpit but also confronts you with as many real-world systems as possible. However, not all simulators are created equal and the FAA has strict rules about what it considers a simulator and what is just a training device. To further complicate matters, the FAA categorizes simulators and regulates what level of simulated flying can be used towards earning certain certificates and ratings and what cannot. The FAA does this by separating simulation systems into four categories:

  • Full Flight Simulator (FFS)
  • Flight Training Device (FTD)
  • Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD)
  • Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD)

Presently, the FAA only considers devices with full motion to be called simulators. Everything else that does not meet strict FAA motion qualifications is designated a Flight Training Device (FTD), a Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) or an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD)

What’s a simulator? What’s not? What are the differentiating criteria?

Various Flight Simulators

Simulators provide different levels of training and have different mission goals.

A Full Flight Level D Simulator offers the most realistic flight experience

Full Flight Simulator (FFS) according to FAA Regulation, Part 14 CFR 60, Appendix F, this device must be a “replica of a specific type, make, model or series of aircraft…” This includes computer programs that represent how the aircraft operates both on the ground and in the air. It must also include a visual system with a view from the flight deck and cues with at least three-degrees of freedom of movement, typically Pitch, Yaw and Roll. In other words, the system must duplicate the controls, avionics and the flying characteristics of the actual specific aircraft. Full Flight Simulators are given letter rankings by the FAA.

Full Flight Simulators A to D

Level A simulators are motion systems with at least three degrees of freedom (Pitch, Yaw and Roll). They are for airplanes only. They’re visual systems are not terribly robust and they have little data in them for flight conditions like ground effect. There are very few Level A simulators in use today.

Level B requires at least 3-axis motion and a higher degree of aerodynamic forces than Level A. Few are in use and they are considered entry-level helicopter simulators.

Level C simulators require a motion platform with six degrees of freedom, which besides Pitch, Yaw and Roll, also include Sway, Heave, Surge). They must react faster than Level A or B simulators and require outside visualization with a horizon line and 75-degree field of vision for both pilot and first officer.

Level D simulators meet the highest FAA and ICAO criteria and qualifications. Level D requires a motion platform with six degrees of freedom, outside visual display with horizon and a field of view of 150 degrees for each pilot which includes Collimated (distant focus ) display. Level D also requires realistic sounds in the cockpit with appropriate warning devices as well as special motion and visual effects.

The FAA considers Level C and Level D simulators good enough for a pilot to earn an aircraft type rating for most commercial jet and larger business aircraft. In fact, a pilot can get a type rating for a Boeing 777 in a simulator and never step into the cockpit of the real aircraft until the day he or she is assigned to fly a commercial route.

These examples show how close to a real cockpit training on the ground can be.

A Flight Training Device provides realistic flight characteristics, but does not have to replicate a particular aircraft model

Flight Training Device (FTD):  The major difference between a Flight Training Device and Full Flight Simulators is that the FTD does not have to mimic a specific make and model of aircraft. In addition, unlike an FFS, the FTD need not duplicate every toggle switch and circuit breaker you’d find on a particular aircraft. That being said, FTDs still present many of the panel instruments and controls you’d find on an aircraft.

Advanced Aviation Training Devices and General Aviation Flight Schools

Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) While both AATDs and BATDs can be used for up to 10 hours of simulated instrument training, AATDs can further be used for commercial, ATP, or flight instructor certificates. Redbirds and Elite simulators fall into the AATD category. While Redbird, describes its FMX simulator as full motion, the FAA still does not allow it to be used for check rides because its landing characteristics are not as realistic as true Full Flight Simulators.

If you’ve ever stepped into a Redbird FMX, for example, you will note it is aircraft model specific (i.e. Cessna 172 SP.) It has a cockpit configuration based on that specific model and the aerodynamic flight characteristics are based on the aircraft being simulated. Inside the cockpit, you will enjoy a level of reality much like many popular PC-based simulators. Unlike them, you will feel motion in both the seat of your pants on takeoff and in your inner ear if you steep turn.

Despite all of this, the FAA still limits its use of AATDs to procedural and IFR training. At the end of last year, the FAA was prepared to increase simulator time for the instrument rating to 20 hours but has since walked back that decision due to objections from some CFIs.

AATDs like Redbird and Elite simulators are excellent for scenario-based training and serve GA flight schools well. Better to learn your engine failure procedures in a simulator than in the air in case your engine doesn’t restart.

A Basic Training Device can be as simple as your computer with a detached yoke, and foot pedals

A PC-driven aviation training device introduces airmen to basic flying skills and can be used for some  procedural training as well.

Basic Aviation Training Devices… X-Planes® and Microsoft FSX®

Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) Back in the late nineties when PC-based simulators were beginning to emerge, the FAA referred to them as PCATDs (Personal Computer Aviation Training Device) and limited their use in flight training to a few hours and some basic tasks. Since then the FAA has reassessed PC-based simulation and approved more of their use in flight training. The FAA, however still limits these devices to teaching procedures for ground training and some instrument training. The FAA does not view these devices capable of teaching stick and rudder skills.

BATDs require the use physical controls, as well as virtual controls. In other words yokes, joysticks, foot pedals and software that understands their commands. The simulated experience must also have atmospheric controls: weather, wind speed, visibility, even turbulence. Lastly, the simulation needs to be modeled after at least one kind of aircraft or several. X-Plane and Microsoft FSX both supply a number of models from single engine pistons to passenger jets, helicopters to seaplanes. The interfaces are based on the avionics panel and flight systems particular to the aircraft type they represent.

The Airlines, the Military and Full Flight Simulators.

If you’re enrolled in a Part 142 training curriculum like Flight Training International, or you’re an advanced airman in the military you will probably accrue significant Full Flight Simulator time in Level C or Level D simulators. Again, that time is valuable because it allows for a great deal of scenario-based training without the danger or expense of teaching it in the air. Also, because these devices are robust, they provide hands-on training in a variety of aspects of flight from systems management and procedures to actual flight maneuvers including circle to land and landing.

Both the airlines and the military rely on Level C & D simulators as well as FTDs to help transition pilots to unfamiliar aircraft or particular avionics suite. Use of simulators contributes to pilot development and their total experience as airmen.

Airline pilots spend up to a month in simulators (for as long as 4 hours a day) before they fly the actual aircraft. Since these pilots already have a significant amount of flight time, the simulator experience is not meant to teach them to fly but to hone their skills for a particular aircraft or type of flying (i.e. passenger transport, cargo, military etc.).

After basic study of an aircraft’s systems, avionics and flight characteristics, pilots will advance to simulators that will provide a menu of real-world operational situations from perfect flying conditions to near catastrophic failures.. In many cases this is the last step prior to an actual check ride in a real airplane.

Is simulator time really worth it?

Since electronic and manual logs have a section for it, it counts for much more than you’d expect. In fact, it could save both pilot lives and the lives of those flying with them. Sim time is part of an airman’s training and can become an important part of any airman’s total experience.  This time is  not only noted by companies and organizations that employ pilots to do jobs for them, but is also recognized by the FAA as part of flight training. Because the simulation technology continues to advance, the regulations also  continue to evolve. One thing is certain, simulated learning is here to stay.

Aviation Branding at its Best!

A wonderful example of branding by a former client: Icelandair. Watch a team of amazing artists paint an entire Icelandair plane into the beautiful northern lights.

ADS-B – To Some Aviators the Most Expensive Letters in the Alphabet

ADS-B Is it worth it?

The FAA has mandated that by 2020 all aircraft flying in controlled airspace must have ADS-B. Is it worth it?

The FAA mandates you add ADS-B OUT (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) to your airplane’s cockpit by 2020, no ands, ifs, or buts. No worries if you’re a multi-million dollar airline with a relatively healthy revenue stream. However, if you’re a typical GA (General Aviation) pilot, it could be a real pain in the wallet.

Why? The money to meet the requirements is high compared to an aircraft’s net value.

Let’s look at a very possible scenario. You purchased a thirty year old Cessna 172M for $39,000 with a $15,000 down payment four years ago. You took out a 20-year loan on the remaining $24,000, which means you’re not even a quarter of the way to payoff.

The previous owner had a top overhaul done on the engine fifteen years ago, which means it’s well past TBO. Even though the every cylinder compression is still good, you know you’re looking at a new engine, or at least a factory rebuild, somewhere down the line. In fact, you’ve been salting away a few bucks a month to ease the pain when the A&P mechanic shakes his head and says the old Lycoming has to go.

Now the FAA comes along and says you have to install ADS-B OUT into your thirty year old bird, whether you like it or not. You do a little investigating and quickly come to the conclusion it is going to take at least $6,000 to meet the FAA requirements – that’s almost a sixth of the net value of the airplane, which will need a new engine, sooner than later.

Is it worth it? Depends on where you fly and how badly you want to keep doing it.

Is ADS-B necessary, or just an expensive bell and whistle?

The FAA issued its mandate in 2010 for ADS-B, giving aircraft owners ten years to comply. Here are the “cliff notes” on ADS-B and why the FAA wants you to install it within the next four years:

  1. ADS-B is one of several air traffic management systems that’ll shift air traffic control system from radar based surveillance to a digital network of airborne, ground and satellite-based systems; it is an integral part of the NextGen air traffic system.
  2. All aircraft flying in controlled airspace must be equipped with ADS-B OUT by January 1, 2020. It will give both ATC and ADS-B equipped aircraft the position and altitude of all aircraft in a given airspace.
  3. ADS-B is more accurate than radar with position updates once-per second as compared to between 4 and 12 seconds for radar.
  4. It will allow for closer separation of aircraft and more direct routing of all aircraft through controlled airspace, which includes Class A, B, C and everything above 10,000 MSL.
  5. Compared to radar ground stations, ADS-B ground stations are relatively low-cost and it will require only 800 ground centers to cover the entire U.S.
  6. An ADS-B installation requires two items: 1) a certified, rule-compliant WAAS GPS high-integrity position source (please note that this must be a IFR certified GPS, so even those who have GPS may have to upgrade) and 2) a datalink radio of which there are two types: 1090 MHz and 978 MHz
    • All aircraft operating at or above 18,000 feet must have a 1090ES (Extended Squitter); aircraft flying below 18,000 feet can use 978 UAT (Universal Access Transmitter)
    • The 1090ES ADS-B requires transponder replacement or modification. The 978 UAT will work with existing Mode A C or S transponders, which aircraft flying in controlled airspace must already have by regulation.
  7. Adding ADS-B IN adds weather and traffic data the pilot can see in the cockpit without adding costly subscriptions even if displayed on a tablet device such an
  8. ADS-B should increase the availability of flight following and should go a long way to increasing the accuracy in locating missing aircraft.
  9. Lastly, with the increased use of unmanned aircraft in the skies, ADS-B may become more and more of a necessity over time and provide more comprehensive situational awareness to all pilots, especially those flying at lower altitudes where Flight following may not be available or is restricted by workload factors.

A Reality Check

As of this writing you should know there is a controversy brewing over the efficacy of ADS-B. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the FAA itself has determined that taxpayer investments in such ground-based applications ‘now outweigh the projected benefits of the program by as much as $588 million.”

While the FAA insists it has delivered its part of the bargain by building ADS-B ground stations, many argue the systems is not yet ready and has several inherent problems. These include:

  • Gaps in the network of ADS-B towers with a need of as many as 200 more stations at an additional taxpayer cost of $258 million
  • Lack of true “end to end testing,” connecting cockpit equipment to controller stations to ground installations, due to the users’ reluctance to install the equipment on a large percentage of their aircraft.
  • Defense Department concerns about the system’s capability to block cyber-attacks or to ensure ADS-B infrastructure and avionics security
  • Effective monitoring systems to determine whether the system/equipment is safely functioning.

Situation Awareness vs. the Money Situation

Given the U.S air traffic system is still relying on 70 year old radar technology, the move to ADS-B should be an idea that is easy to embrace from a situation awareness and safety point of view. The fly in the ointment, however, is not just money, but value-added service for the money. Many would argue, the latest digital technologies already offer some of what ADS-B promises.

AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), which generally supports the ADS-B concept, is lobbying the FAA to push back the 2020 deadline for certain GA segments until a less costly solution can be found to the nearly $6000 equipment and installation price tag.

The fear is the cost may ground many airplanes and their pilots at a time when the General Aviation industry is stagnant and the number of pilot flight hours flown declining. AOPA argues the economics of GA are fragile enough without adding another tipping point. Clearly those who fly in wide open G space, will be reluctance to install ADS-B in cockpits until the last possible moment. If, however, you fly in crowded Southern California or the East Coast, adding ADS-B as soon as possible might appear prudent.

AOPA has asked the FAA to consider several technical changes so that the price of ADS-B could come down and be more in line with the economics of certain GA pilots. For example, AOPA is lobbying the FAA to allow pilots to use hand-held ADS-B receivers, which would eliminate installation costs.

Because the FAA is implementing ADS-B on two independent frequencies, 1090 and 978, AOPA is also recommending there either be a re-broadcast service at all general aviation airports or that all aircraft use the same frequency.

 The Get IN and Get OUT argument

The other side of the argument, is you should get in earlier than later and add ADS-B IN to your equipment so you can get weather and traffic services without paying subscription fees that Garmin and other GPS software companies charge for these services. ADS-B manufacturers argue that the additional situation awareness will help promote GA rather than shrink it and that flight schools in particular will like the added advantages of being able to track their students’ whereabouts, as well as give them an added margin of safety. The manufacturers believe the system will work and only improve with time.

A matter of when, not if.

The reality is to fly in controlled airspace, you will have to add ADS-B to your airplane.  That goes for owners of thirty five year old piston driven Cessna’s as well as owners of state-of-the-art Cirrus R22s. In either case it may be more sensible to do it sooner than later because the FAA mandate stands. You’ve got to 2020 to comply. And, by the way, that’s already 20 years into the 21st century.