What’s next in NextGen: ADS-B delay?

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ADS-B is a critical element of the NextGen system integration. The below article, based on public comments by A4A representatives, casts serious doubt on the timely implementation of the ADS-B, and that is not good news!

The “In and Out” version will remove the need for radar surveillance, will enhance the communication between and among ATC and multiple aircraft, and will increase the real time availability of weather to the cockpits. The equipage of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out is among the most controversial, particularly for the General Aviation community.

The Chief NextGen Officer held a summit at which he made his best case for equipage. With some fanfare, the CNGO issued a NextGen Priorities Joint Implementation Plan, but it was unclear the degree of industry agreement/commitment to the priorities.

Here are the quotes from Airlines for America (A4A) Managing Director, maintenance and engineering, Bob Ireland:

· “He said A4A filed a petition with FAA this month that “we expect” to be accepted and that would allow airlines to file a plan to FAA detailing how they will achieve full compliance with the ADS-B Out mandate by 2025. An airline’s plan for compliance, if approved by FAA, would allow the carrier to be in accordance with the ADS-B Out rule.”

· “A4A believes a ‘five-year transition period’ after the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline is needed because of the number of aircraft that need to be retrofitted (4,800 to 5,800) with hardware that in some cases won’t be available by 2020. However, Ireland said, ‘There is still the expectation that transponders [able to communicate with GPS satellites] will be in place [on aircraft] by 2020.’”

This is particularly disturbing, since the airlines have been thought of being able to afford these transponders and as probable supporters and advocates of ADS-B.

The senior FAA participant, FAA Avionics Maintenance Branch manager Tim Shaver, did not reply harshly. He admitted “’it’s not that much time before 2020 will be upon us.’ He conceded FAA won’t initially enforce the ADS-B Out rule with a ‘hammer.’”

UPS, an early adopter of the ADS-B, was heard to make some disparaging remarks about the 2020 achievability. UPS Airlines advanced flight manager Christian Kast said “the cargo operator has identified potential problems with the 2020 mandate.” Such an opinion from a company, which has great familiarity with this transponder, has to be considered damaging to the FAA’s optimism and deadline.

One of the problems in assessing the likely positive impact of NextGen on the National Airspace System is difficult. Without a high percentage of aircraft equipped with the innovative technology, it is difficult to measure the system benefits, or so the Inspector General testified.

If the FAA allows a soft deadline and/or grants the A4A petition, the user community will likely delay equipage. Deferring capital expenditures and delaying in the hopes that future ADS-B improvements, in terms of reliability, functionality and decreased costs, are likely responses by all users.

As the IG stated, the later that the fleet gets to some critical mass of aircraft with the NextGen elements, the real world operational measurements will not be available. Without some semblance of ATC and aircraft interacting with all of the NextGen features, it will be difficult for the IG to estimate the real benefits.

NextGen has encountered a nettlesome quandary.

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