ADS-B Rule: Big Bucks, Paltry Benefit
The subhead on page 110 of 149 says it all: "General Aviation: High Equipage Costs With Little Benefit." The FAA has made the rule on ADS-B out official. I don't know what I was hoping for, but somehow I'm still disappointed.
I'm not against the equipage to ADS-B. I'll even agree with the FAA who said, "The FAA fully acknowledges that the general aviation community will incur significant costs from this rule. However, this must be balanced against the foundation this capability provides in moving toward the NextGen infrastructure and benefits from its overall usage." Fine. We rarely fly into the major airports and airspace where the ADS-B benefit will be greatest, but we fly near enough that we have to be in the picture.
But what little relief or gain we could have hoped for seems to have been dropped. Free weather and traffic information? Not so fast. First off, the FAA has only defined ADS-B out requirements. This is how ATC sees you. They have yet to officially define the ADS-in, so manufactures have little motivation to really invest in complete solutions just yet.
But the rule does have some sway on those solutions. There are two parallel ADS-B systems, the UAT solution and the 1090ES solution. Only the UAT provides traffic and weather; the 1090ES just does traffic. But the new rule requires everyone above 18,000 feet use the 1090ES system. That's not just jets. Got a turbo Cirrus SR22? You must use 1090ES. This makes developing cheaper UAT systems (weather + traffic) for GA even less likely. The FAA noted that aircraft could equip with both systems of course. For an extra $10K? I think not. Look for stand-alone systems for ADS-B weather that try and compete with satellite weather receivers but have no impact on your ADS-B compliance.
But ADS-B compliance could at least replace your transponder, right? No, you'll have to have both. The time-honored transponder is part of the backup strategy should the new system break down.
In fact, if you want a simple way to think about how this is going to look from the GA perspective, think about it as getting a second, really-expensive transponder. Because, from a GA perspective, that's what this is. Minimum compliance will be what this rule has defined: ADS-B out. That means ATC can see you (like a transponder) but with greater accuracy. Pay more and you can get ADS-B in with traffic data. Sort of like a transponder that gives you TIS-B traffic today, but (presumably) of greater accuracy and without false alarms from your own radar shadow.
How much will this cost? That's still not completely clear because there will be some cost dropping with competition, but it'll be slower to evolve with the ADS-B in rule still incomplete. It won't be less than several thousand dollars though, unless you already have some equipment that can be upgraded or used.
This makes me envision an understandable procrastination resulting in a last-minute rush to install systems starting in, say, late 2018, a year before the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline. I'll bet now that anyone trying to buy the hardware or find a shop to install it about then will be on a long waiting list.
There's another storm on the horizon. I'm no radio-frequency expert, but I've asked several folks who are about the issue of frequency congestion on the 1090 Mhz spectrum. It's used by ADS-B, transponders, active traffic systems, TCAS and FAA radar. The answers have ranged from "it won't be a problem" to descriptions including words like "meltdown" and "catastrophe."
The rulemaking says this about it: "The FAA conducted a study to assess 1090 MHz frequency congestion in the future air traffic environment. The FAA is analyzing alternatives and will enact the necessary mitigations to reduce the 1090 MHz frequency congestion risk for ADS–B, TCAS, and SSR, while enabling ranges appropriate for many ADS–B In applications through 2035."
Right. Somehow I don't find that reassuring, especially if there's a rush to comply at the eleventh hour and GA's frequency usage skyrockets. Maybe the FAA is just hoping not that many of us will still be flying by then.
As I said earlier, I don't know what I was hoping for, but I know I'm disappointed.