First Step of NextGen Mandates May Ground Hundreds of Aircraft

ThinkstockPhotos-78769906You may have heard that the federal government has been working on a next-generation air traffic control system, but this may surprise you: private aircraft owners are already beginning to see the proposed changes take form. Last July, NASA presented the FAA with new software to better manage space between in-flight aircraft and reduce the number of course and altitude adjustments pilots traditionally have to make. It was also believed to improve communication between air traffic controllers and pilots, fuel savings, airplane flow at busy airports, and safety.

The NextGen integration efforts have begun with the mandatory installation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B Out, on all aircraft requiring a Mode C transponder by January 1, 2020. ADS-B Out equips aircraft with GPS systems that communicate airspeed, altitude, and location to ground stations and other nearby aircraft. The FAA admits that this requirement will not make a significance change in safety, but claims it is necessary to advance NextGen.

Unfortunately, ADS-B Out comes with a high cost and a lack of certified solutions. The current cost of installing ADS-B Out equipment is $5,000 or $6,000 at minimum, creating a significant barrier for many general aviation operators. And with a large portion of the general aviation fleet valued at $40,000 or less, many aircraft owners would be spending as much as 10-25% of their aircraft value on a single piece of equipment.

The high cost combined with a lack of clear benefits to the operators means a great deal of resistance to the change and reluctance to take action until conditions improve. As of the end of 2014, the FAA estimates that only 10% of the general aviation fleet has been properly equipped. Others have appealed to the FAA to play a more active role in getting less expensive technology tested and approved.

joint letter from 14 general aviation groups, representing thousands of aircraft owners, was sent in January to Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator. The letter outlined general support for universal participation in ADS-B Out but acknowledged the concerns of the aircraft owners they represent. With so many private aircraft owners resisting the changes due to cost, here’s to hoping for a solution that helps everyone meet the mandate and move one step closer to safer skies.

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