Andy Pasztor, the Wall Street Journal’s highly regarded aviation correspondent, has made the startling revelation that:
“Federal aviation regulators are ready to exempt numerous U.S. airlines from a requirement to make certain satellite-navigation upgrades by 2020, a delay that may further complicate air-traffic control modernization….
Based on a case-by-case analysis including specific timelines to be proposed by individual carriers, the FAA will consider extending the deadline for swapping out older Global Positioning Satellite receivers to as late as 2025.”
That prognosis of a new, as-yet-to-be released policy varies quite strongly from past FAA statements. What does this mean and what are the consequences to the Administrator’s and Chief NextGen Officer’s plan to implement that new technological platform for the future of air traffic?
Changing way points in navigation or policy is not a preferred practice. In the air, alteration of the original time and distances can alter the underlying assumptions made in planning the flight. When a person in authority sets one goal, develops a strong argument in support of that policy and then appears to reconsider a milestone, allegiance to strive to meet that date might diminish.
Deputy Administrator Whitaker convened an invitation only ADS-B Summit to set the priorities for this project. While the CNGO made a strong pitch for ADS-B, there was dissent among the attendees. The after Summit comments, in particular, questioned ADS-B’s cost/benefits. The 2020 deadline is a key to the implementation of NextGen; these units create a smart connection with all of the new air traffic systems. Further, the goal was to give the manufacturers a point by which the expected universe of units must be sold. It was also expected that with substantial mandated purchases by that date would lower the unit costs of the ADS-B equipment.
Pasztor’s suppositions make great sense, but his analysis is written from a neutral position. His primary points for the change include:
- “…without the exemptions, jetliners equipped with earlier-generation GPS receivers effectively would be grounded by January 2020.”
- “The move partly reflects the agency’s strategy to retain key airline support for more complex, expensive and longer-term traffic-control improvements, according to some industry officials and other experts.”
- “There is dissension even among avionics manufacturers seeking to sell receivers.”
- “Some officials object to the FAA’s exemptions as unduly favorable to airlines. Others see them as progress toward a consensus. “The idea is to get everyone back” in line when it comes to the overall modernization effort, dubbed NextGen, according to one high-ranking avionics executive involved in the discussions.
- “On its website and in an email response from a spokeswoman, the agency emphasized that the exemptions won’t offer any relief from more-sweeping requirements to implement ADS-B Out by 2020.”
- “’The FAA and industry have not wavered on their commitment to implement” those core devices across the fleet, according to the spokeswoman, who added the exemptions will permit only “minor degradation in GPS performance’ from previously mandated accuracy and reliability levels.”
When the Administrator and his Deputy formally recognize the new exemption process, there will have to be carefully designed arguments to continue consensus for ADS-B implementation, its economic rational and the system value of NextGen.
The exemptions from the ADS-B implementation deadline will provide a challenge. The criteria to differentiate between those aircraft which may delay equipage and those which must be grounded will involve microscopic analysis of the facts. This decision process is reminiscent of the retrofitting of Stage I aircraft to meet the noise standards of FAR §91.303 in 1984 and beyond. Every application asserted that the kits needed to meet the Stage II requirements were not available. As explained by Secretary Scocozza, based on some language in the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979, the decisional elements included:
- “A smaller carrier providing
- valuable airline service, is making
- a good faith compliance effort, but
- needed technology is delayed or unavailable, and
- could suffer financial havoc without the exemption.”
If memory serves, even though those well-articulated standards were in place, the dockets and ex parte communications demonstrated that other political and international considerations may have been involved. Though Secretary Dole stated early in 1984 that “few, if any” exemptions would be granted, the early record met that goal. Congress, in 1984, amended its prior guidance to require only a good faith effort with a signed commitment. The revision of the Congressional guidance and a US Court of Appeals decision, Airmark v. FAA, basically resulted in a large number of exemptions.
That past history of granting few exemptions for noise compliance may well be prologue for the handling of a few ADS-B exemptions.