FAA Says ADS-B Coming To Gulf, AOPA Notes Downside

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Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) gear will be up and running in the Gulf of Mexico by the end of next year, Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell told the HAI Heli Expo crowd in Houston this week. The installation aims to improve safety for helicopters serving offshore oil platforms. Sturgell said the system, designed by ITT, will help controllers at Houston Center to separate traffic in the Gulf, which doesn't have radar coverage. "We're stretching the airspace," Sturgell said, "extending it to the altitudes and the areas that you [helicopter pilots] operate in." Sturgell added that ADS-B services will expand, and will prove useful to other segments of general aviation, such as air tour and emergency medical services. AOPA, however, is less enthused about the costs and benefits of the technology. An FAA proposal would require GA aircraft to equip with ADS-B equipment by 2020 if they want to fly in Class A, B, or C airspace, or above 10,000 feet msl. AOPA says it's concerned that the mandated avionics are too expensive and there appear to be too few benefits for GA.

In the Gulf, however, oil companies and helicopter companies are facilitating the installation of the equipment, flying crews out to the platforms. Because of the lack of radar coverage, controllers have maintained 20 miles of separation (based on position reports) between aircraft. ADS-B will allow much closer separation limits while increasing safety and efficiency, the FAA says. The technology was first deployed in Alaska, where it was credited with contributing to a dramatic improvement in safety.