Australia Wrestles With ADS-B; Can The U.S. Be Far Behind?

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Australian ATC provider Airservices Australia last week said it has canceled plans to purchase a large quantity of ADS-B-compliant avionics it had planned for use in that country's lower-level airspace. The plans involved buying and paying installation costs for some 1,500 aircraft. However, saying that use of ADS-B below FL300 is "a significantly more complex matter than [in] upper level airspace," the company retracted a Request for Proposal it had issued. In a prepared statement, Airservices Australia said the plan to install and use ADS-B in lower-level airspace "raises a number of operational and policy issues that require resolution before a decision to proceed can be made." Exactly what those issues were, Airservices Australia isn't saying. At least publicly, where we in the U.S. can figure it out. Whether the ATC provider's decision will have an impact beyond Australia -- say, to the U.S., where the FAA has taken steps to transition its air traffic control system to one based at least in part on ADS-B -- is not yet known. "There remains broad stakeholder support for the benefits of ADS-B technology, however deferring the introduction of ADS-B technology in lieu of en route radars is necessary to allow additional time to ensure full understanding and backing for the extension of this important new technology," Airservices Australia said in its statement.

In the U.S., many observers see the FAA's recently renewed emphasis on Mode S transponders and ADS-B as yet another agency attempt to implement "pay as you go" user fees. The ADS-B architecture, for those of you just joining us, moves much of the navigation, communication and collision-avoidance technology from the ground to the cockpit. A fleet of ADS-B-equipped aircraft is much more autonomous and free of ATC requirements than is currently the case in U.S. airspace. The thing is though; ADS-B -- at least as it can be configured -- allows any government agency wishing to tap its data a very seamless and detailed flow of information on a specific aircraft's activity.