Free weather and traffic information. Affordable avionics. That's what it will take for general aviation to switch to ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast). And 10 years of proven, nationwide system operation before any mandate to equip with ADS-B.
That was AOPA's stand at the FAA's ADS-B "Industry Day" this week in Washington, D.C.
"AOPA has worked on ADS-B for more than a decade, and we're convinced it will improve safety and utility for GA pilots and reduce costs for the FAA, if it is developed and implemented correctly," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs.
The meeting was another in a series of meetings that the FAA is having with both users and potential bidders on the ADS-B service. ADS-B transmits the aircraft's position to air traffic control (ATC) and other aircraft. The ADS-B datalink can also be used to transmit weather and other information to the cockpit.
And bidding on a service is a different approach for the FAA. The successful contractor will be providing real-time ADS-B data to both ATC and pilots, not just building equipment to FAA specs as has traditionally been the case.
"This follows the model of the flight service station system, and we think it could mean lower costs to the taxpayer, faster implementation, and more innovation," said Cebula. "The contractor will be taking a risk but also has a real incentive to bring the system online quickly and not gold-plate it."
The FAA anticipates awarding the contract for the ADS-B service by July of next year.
But GA will only accept the service if the contractor continues to provide FIS (flight information service-weather and other operational data such as TFRs) and traffic information for free.
AOPA emphasized the importance of FIS to general aviation during the meeting.
"ADS-B will eventually replace radar and transponders, and that's a significant cost savings to the FAA," said Cebula. "But to the GA pilot, the benefit is free weather and other data in the cockpit. We'll happily replace our transponders with ADS-B boxes — if they're affordable."
They're not, currently. And that was AOPA's challenge to the avionics manufacturers at the meeting — bring the costs down to the point that aircraft owners will voluntarily equip before any mandate.
AOPA acknowledged that a mandate would come someday, just as it did for transponders. As ADS-B replaces transponders and radar, the "cost of admission" to controlled airspace for GA will be a basic ADS-B system, broadcasting the aircraft's GPS-derived position and altitude through a UAT (universal access transceiver) radio.
"But we want to see the ADS-B infrastructure fully deployed nationwide, operating successfully for eight to 10 years before any mandates," said Cebula. "If we can eventually remove our transponders after ADS-B is operational, if the uplinked data remain free and comprehensive, and if the avionics costs are reasonable, we predict most aircraft owners will already be equipped with ADS-B long before they are required to."
August 31, 2006