Unfortunate Split of Opinions in House Committee Hearing on NextGen; Consensus needed!

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PRESS RELEASE: Committee Examines Impact of FAA’s 2020 NextGen Mandate on General     Aviation

FAA Administrator Huerta Testifies on Challenges and Benefits for Small Businesses

PRESS RELEASE: NextGen mandate too expensive, AOPA member tells House committee

bob-hepp-testifying-at-sbc

PRESS RELEASE: FreeFlight Systems Testifies on NextGen Equipage Mandate Before U.S. House Small Business Committee

PRESS RELEASE: NBAA Welcomes House Hearing Seeking Greater Clarity on NextGen Specifics

House GA Caucus Co-Chair and Chair of the House Small Business Committee, Rep. Sam Graves held a hearing on the Impact of NextGen mandates on General Aviation. Specifically his opening statement asked the question whether the FAA’s January 1, 2020 mandate to equip all aircraft with Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast Out, or ADS-B Out will impact the 360,000 aircraft carrying 166 million passengers to 5,000 public airports will negatively impact this segment of small business. The witnesses’ answers were unclear.

The testimony was mixed at best and confusing/contradictory at worst. Perhaps, a written statement submitted by NBAA provides some insight into the apparent differences.

Administrator Huerta led off with optimistic testimony and said “We are confident that users of the [National Airspace System], including the general aviation community, will see the advantages to ADS-B as they continue to equip and begin using the technology it offers.” He also offered that if pilots decided not to fly into certain classes of airspace, there is no need to equip their aircraft with the technology. He also recited a number of benefits (e.g. real time weather information) which should further justify the capital costs.

The first private sector witness Paula Derks, President, Aircraft Electronics Association, Lee’s Summit, MO, provided a perspective from those who will buy and then install the equipment. Her point is that their investment and then installation depend on the GA pilots to purchase the ADS-B units well in advance of the deadline. As she said, “…general aviation aircraft owners are ‘on the clock’ as ADS-B installation capacity today far exceeds aircraft owner demand. This inverse relationship will not last unless the industry immediately begins to see 100 or more installs completed per day – a 25-fold increase over the current installation rate.”

A GAMA member Tim Taylor, President and CEO, Free Flight Systems, Inc., Irving, TX, added that his industry has developed reasonably priced options and that the FAA needs to hold to its timetable. His companies are manufacturing the radios and antennas based on the expected buy by all (or most) of these aircraft owners.

The more negative comments came from AOPA’s witness Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures flight schools (four flight school locations in Virginia operating 39 aircraft) told the committee that the equipage mandate could be prohibitively expensive for small businesses like his. The necessary avionics currently cost approximately $5,000 per aircraft while installation typically adds another $3,000 to $4,000 to the cost to comply. His forecast is that the AOPA members cannot afford the ADS-B units.

NBAA’s President and CEO, who submitted a written statement, made some telling remarks which appear to mark a point of equipoise between the more pessimistic comments of AOPA’s witness and the Administrator’s more positive remarks:

“For example, the industry needs further clarity on the FAA’s implementation timeline – including the agency’s requirement for ADS-B equipage by Jan. 1, 2020 – and what is required of operators to meet that timeline. We need a better understanding of what type of commitment operators must make for technology upgrades and new investments.

As with all new programs, we also have concerns about what the equipage costs for operators will be, and what services can be expected from installation of ADS-B and other NextGen equipment.”

His point is that the FAA would be well served to clarify the deadlines and the costs NOW.

While each of these positions represents legitimate concerns of each of the industry’s segments, it is most unfortunate for such lack of consensus within the GA community, much less aviation overall. Congress is unlikely to move on a technologically complex and dollar demanding program like NextGen is seeking funding when the industry shows disparate opinions.

Is it that the FAA has not made its case adequately about the costs and benefits? Is there ambiguity inherent in a developing technology? Or are the users reluctant to pay for anything without regard to the benefit (alleged or not yet proven)? It is most unfortunate for these seminal issues to be raised before the House and Chairman Graves.

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