Six Big Myths About the ADS-B Mandate

I doubt what we're witnessing is any kind coordinated misinformation campaign, but I've been reading so much inaccurate information about ADS-B lately written by people who clearly should know better that I'm starting to wonder what's going on.

On the face of it ADS-B is a bad deal for general aviation, no doubt about it. But in trying to cope with the rapidly approaching 2020 equipment mandate, we at least have to be honest in framing the debate. Otherwise we're merely going in circles as we sow confusion, whether intentionally or unintentionally, over a topic that's really not that confusing.

Here are six distortions about ADS-B I've seen emerge in the past week, which I'll call ADS-B "myths." I've followed up with the reality as I see it, although as I also note, in a couple of cases I'd love to be proved wrong.

Myth #1: ADS-B Out provides no real benefits to pilots. This is the easiest anti-ADS-B argument to debunk. ADS-B is all about the benefits it will deliver. Just look at the list of paybacks ADS-B will offer: It will provide surveillance in remote or inhospitable areas currently not covered by radar. It will reduce traffic separation in busy airspace, allowing controllers to plan further in advance. It will reduce the costs of the infrastructure needed to operate the National Airspace System. Eventually, it will enhance safety through technologies such as automated traffic callouts and warnings of imminent runway incursions. It will also be scalable, making it adaptable to ground vehicles to enhance the safety of ground operations. And that's not even mentioning the benefits of ADS-B In weather and traffic information today.

Myth #2: Owners of general aviation airplanes will park their airplanes rather than pay for ADS-B equipment. The cost to upgrade for ADS-B Out for the majority of older piston general aviation airplanes will be around $7,000 for an all-in-one ADS-B In/Out unit with built-in WAAS GPS receiver and Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth) output to an iPad or other tablet. That's a tough nut, no question. Anybody with an airplane worth less than $50,000 will have to think long and hard about whether they'll want to equip or not. But if you decide not to install ADS-B Out gear, that doesn't mean you'll necessarily be grounded. Generally speaking, ADS-B Out will be required in the airspace where a Mode C transponder is needed today. That leaves plenty of airspace wide open where ADS-B won't be required. Smaller outlying GA airports might even see a welcome influx of based airplanes after the rule goes into effect.

Myth #3: ADS-B traffic and weather is of little value because it's "advisory only." This is one I wouldn't have thought I'd need to address, but it's become a potent anti-ADS-B argument after being highlighted in a now infamous Department of Transportation Inspector General report criticizing the FAA's progress on ADS-B. Yes, it's true that ADS-B FIS-B weather and TIS-B traffic information is to be used for "advisory" purposes only. But so what? Both are still great safety tools, and can be just as effective as the "advisory-only" information provided by a Traffic Advisory System (TAS) or SiriusXM weather receiver. The fact is, the information provided by ADS-B In gear represents clear safety benefits for GA, no matter what some government report says.

Myth #4: The FAA will delay the ADS-B mandate. Ain't gonna happen. As noted in the DOT IG report, the FAA expects only 3 percent of airliners and 10 percent of GA aircraft to be equipped for ADS-B Out by the end of this year. So far not enough airplanes are equipped for ADS-B to allow the FAA to do the nitty-gritty testing of the network to ensure the technology works the way it should. Delaying ADS-B equipage would only postpone that urgently needed testing longer. So, the FAA will require you and everybody else flying in controlled airspace to equip for ADS-B by Jan. 1, 2020, and then it will start the real testing of the ADS-B network that will allow further development of core NextGen technologies.

Myth #5: The FAA will rewrite the ADS-B rules. Here's the one where I really hope I'm wrong. The National Business Aviation Association came out this week and said it is working with one of the FAA's ADS-B subgroups on "alternative technologies" that might cost less and be easier to certify than what's available today. Many people are starting to ask whether some type of less expensive ADS-B Out portable device could meet the FAA's approval standards. "We are optimistic this working group will provide creative solutions to meet the FAA's 2020 deadline," said NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown in a statement. However, he added, "the FAA has continuously indicated no extension is forthcoming and the industry must be prepared to comply by Jan. 1, 2020." I would be shocked to see any substantive change in the FAA's position with regard to certified ADS-B gear. I think the avionics makers that have poured millions of dollars into development of ADS-B equipment would too. At any rate, the next subgroup meeting is scheduled for today. We'll keep you posted on what happens on this front.

Myth #6: ADS-B is too expensive. This is a controversial one, I know. But think back to when the Mode C mandate was first being discussed and everybody thought that too was going to strike the deathblow against general aviation because of the high equipage costs. Mode C transponders were too pricey, we all said. They provided no benefit to pilots, we complained. Too many airplanes needed to be equipped in too short a time. All the same arguments that are being used in the ADS-B debate today were tossed around back then, and the result is we survived the Mode C transition. We'll survive the shift to ADS-B too. The big difference this time is that ADS-B is a technology that's truly worth having.

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