Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Getting Real With ADS-B
The way I've always understood the implementation of ADS-B is that the promise to GA was the benefit of ADS-B in at the cost of ADS-B out. The understanding was that the cost of both a GPS and a UAT were what we as GA pilots paid to obtain that benefit. When I upgraded my panel, I did everything but purchase a UAT because it really wasn't available and nothing talked to it. What happened to that dream?
1090ES seems to be the cheapest way that ATC benefits from ADS-B right now. It becomes the least common denominator to equip the heavy iron. Mandating Mode-C is nothing more then admitting most ATC stations won't be upgrading their equipage quick enough and they have to have something to work with. I can live with that; I have one.
The 1090ES requirement also states they don't trust GPS to always be there. Mode-C/S will be needed for failsafe operation of the airspace (so radars will never go away), and TCAS will work in the absence of GPS or ADS-B. So why ADS-B at all, except in special locations, such as the Gulf and Alaska? Transition is the tough part, but planning for failure may prevent growth.
Seems to me that UAT and 1090ES should both be acceptable without mandating one or the other in any airspace. Mode-C/S is not required after phase-in ends in 2020.
The cost today for implementing ADS-B in or out is irrelevant. Once something solid is in place, the vendors can get busy. I envision a 1090ES "add-on" that will connect to any panel-mount GPS and provide the required functionality and fit in a 3ATI hole or disappear onto a rack or under the floorboards and it can be cheap enough to be part of any aircraft that needs the functionality. While many panels still don't have GPS units, it's about time everyone upgraded. It's like the guy with that still-running original IBM PC-XT. Sure, it still "works," but you can't do much practical in today's interconnected world. VOR-only panels are something that belong in the Smithsonian, not in any controlled airspace. And, yes, it isn't free to upgrade, though it's cheaper today than it was 10 years ago or should be.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for economic growth? Let's get some of those "stimulus" dollars working by stimulating our avionics industries to produce the gear we need and hire techs to install them into all those aircraft which would benefit from a basic GNS-430W/GTX-330ES upgrade (or a newer, lower-cost replacement for that combination). Perhaps the FAA will get the spirit and help the manufacturers by searching for ways to meaningfully reduce the overhead costs to certify the new equipment; maybe something like what the LSA people are doing?
The technology for a UAT should be dirt cheap if someone can build enough of them to get the cost-per-unit where it belongs. Other than perhaps transmit power, the requirements for a UAT for heavy iron and for a Cub Legend are pretty much the same. The same "chip set" would do for both. The current crop of SOC (System-On-a-Chip) products from Intel (and others) provide the other chip needed. If they can manufacture an iPhone or Nexus One for $250-$350, a UAT shouldn't be more then $150 or so the thinking would go.
If the FAA wants to mandate new technology, good; it's about time. If they really want to see that technology deployed, then get busy and find ways to help the manufacturers deliver quality products for a price that makes sense on the benefit/value side of things.
When I was a kid, my dad was looking at a used Fiat at the back of a car store while I sat in the brand-new Ferrari in the showroom. I begged my dad to get the Ferrari. He said: "I could buy it, but I can't afford it." (And we didn't get it.)
The ADS-B whiners got me to thinking: How many owners can truly afford their airplanes? The cheapskates abound out there. I've seen some incredibly unairworthy junk put on airplanes (too long to list here).
In my opinion, the FAA's ADS-B decision actually caters to the cheapskates, because it doesn't mandate anything about ADS-B in, and the FAA did eliminate "antenna diversity" and tighter position reporting requirements in the SIL spec.
So I'm curious: How many owners can truly afford their airplanes? How many actually have the financial means to overhaul the engine at any time? Engines can munch themselves at any time. Can the owner fix it? How many don't think twice before using, say, a household nail as a replacement for a cockpit door-release pin instead of getting a stainless or certified part? How many will use some vinyl upholstery for their engine baffle seal instead of springing for the silicone seal? (Yeah, I've seen that.)
With all the cheapskates out there putting junk in their planes, it's no wonder the public doesn't trust us.
On May 27, 2010, I learned that the FAA is going to mandate ADS-B out systems (where transponders are now required) by January 1, 2020.
In the AVweb notice, you stated that the FAA looked at several options for reducing the cost to the GA community: "The third option considered was to limit ADS-B requirements to Class A and B airspace. This was dismissed because the FAA believes failure to equip all aircraft would greatly reduce the system's benefits."
What this means is that the FAA does not save enough money unless they force the GA community to implement a costly avionics installation that offers little in return to the GA community.
I suppose it is time to engage my Congressional reps.
In my opinion, problems with air carrier pilot professionalism can be laid at the feet of inadequate salary structures and inappropriate work rules such as long duty days (up to 16 hours) and multiple days away from home while only being paid for hours flown, which might be as few as 2-3 hours per day.
The regional carriers are becoming the training ground for pilots now that the military is providing fewer to the pool, and they are among the worst [in terms of compensation]. How can we expect to attract the highest caliber individual when (s)he is so poorly compensated? My younger son has over 8,000 hours as turbine PIC with a large regional, has been a captain with them for five years, and is supporting his wife and baby daughter in a large (expensive) city on a bit over $50,000 per year. He is a dedicated professional and one of the best pilots I've flown with, but some of the FOs he flies with have less than 400 hours PIC in anything, get paid squat, live in crash pads, and are looking for other employment. Disgraceful! I'm surprised the overall level of professionalism is as high as it is, given their economic circumstances.
With all the modern technology available on the flight deck these days, is it time to reconsider just how we fly these aircraft? Training has always been focused on pilot and co-pilot duties. Are we approaching the age of single-pilot Part 121 operations?
This is not to say we don't need two pilots up front, but can we build aircraft with this thought in mind and therefore be able to train each pilot with exact duplicate duties? Wouldn't this relieve one pilot of his responsibilities and make him an observer? Would this help with situations where pilots attempt takeoffs without all engines running [or] takeoffs from the wrong runway?
This way, not only are you using your checklist to verify that the aircraft is correctly configured but that your "pilot flying" also is configured correctly.
Please pause for thought this June for R.Scott Puddy, a regular features contributor to AVweb who had a fatal accident in his friend's YAK 52 on June 18, 2002. Scott shared his passion for flying with me, as he did with many other people.
I was flying with Scott a few days before the accident. Thanks to Scott's encouragement at that time, I still fly regularly today.
It was a privilege to fly with you, Scott.
Alan P. Horrocks
Civil Training Association
Royal Thai Air Force
Don Muang, Bangkok