ADS-B: Defy Authority!

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A good friend of mine who’s an aircraft broker called me this week to ask for my take on what to do about ADS-B installations. He has to have a ready answer for buyers and sellers of legacy airplanes who are asking about this. What was I telling people, he wondered, laboring under the misguided assumption that I’m some sort of seer. He’s pretty sure the whole NextGen thing is going to run off the rails and that the Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B mandate will be pushed back.

While I’m pretty sure I agree with him, that’s not what I tell people when they ask. Or, more accurately, I tell them not to bet on the mandate slipping as a reason to delay installing the equipment. The FAA insists that it will not be moved back and the more it insists this earnestly before hearings in Congress, the more likely it is to happen, in my view. That’s just the way of it. We live in a post-truth, post-consequence and post-reality world in which we’re in a perpetual state of being gaslighted senseless.

I may, in fact, be a victim of this myself, which explains my reason for telling people to just put the damn equipment in and stop bellyaching about it. My reasoning is thus: If you believe the date will be pushed back and it isn’t, it’s possible that delaying will get you into the witching hour. Shops will be too backed up to fit in rush orders and you could be on the beach for a while, unable to fly your airplane in airspace where you really want to go. You might also pay more for the installation than you might otherwise since shops certainly aren’t going to be offering discounts if they’re booked to the rafters with ADS-B work.

My impression is that shops are already getting booked up with about 30 months left until the mandate. On the other hand, if you don’t need or plan to fly in the mandated airspace—basically where Mode C is required now—no need to equip. Ever. Putter around the tulies; don’t worry, be happy. You could also hold out for some dramatically cheaper solution. I doubt it’s coming, but be my guest.

Increasingly, I am hearing an interesting argument and it’s this: No one is really sure what the size of the active GA fleet is and/or how many of those owners think they need ADS-B. If the real fleet size is considerably smaller than imagined, the feared logjam may never materialize. Roll your airplane into the shop Christmas week 2019 and pick it up the day after New Year’s. Run your own book on that one. I have no data to support it pro or con. The chip you’re putting on the table is immediate airspace access—or lack of it—and this may be of zero value to you.

I hear two other arguments against installing ADS-B. The money complaint and the principle complaint. The money argument is that at a price of $4500 and up, ADS-B is still just too expensive. The principle argument is that people don’t like government mandates and don’t like to be told what they have to do. (Warning: preaching-to-the choir paragraph follows. Reader discretion advised.)

Even $4500 is a total outrage, for which we draw no conceivable benefit. And I am damn tired of the government meddling in my life and forcing me to do things like participating in a multibillion-dollar program that curtails my right to fly. There. If that shoe fits, go ahead and slip it on. I consider it complete rubbish.

Flying airplanes at any level is some form of expensive. It ain’t fishing. It has always been expensive. It will always be expensive. In the grand arc of history, ADS-B equipage is just another blip in the data. Our surveys indicate that everyone who has installed ADS-B is happy with the decision. They like the free weather and traffic data in an integrated, panel format. That’s the benefit. As for the principle, personally, I consider speed limits, edicts against lane splitting, airport security gates, control towers at sleepy airports and chicken^%$# rules of all kinds to be affronts to the dignity of civilized living. I go along because having my head knotted in a perpetual game of whack-a-mole is not my thing and pissing off people who do embrace chicken^%$% rules is just impolite.

Now, on to why I think the mandate will slip. I think the coming scandal is that NextGen really will run off the rails because the FAA lacks the technical expertise to manage it. It consists of many moving parts and I think it will soon be revealed that the moving parts themselves don’t work very well and they work even less well when expected to integrate into a rational whole. My prediction is that this will become a thing around next summer or fall.

One of the early pieces of NextGen, called ERAM, for En Route Modernization, is an early component of NextGen. It basically replaces the Host processing suite Centers used for flight data management. It was supposed to be done by 2010, but didn’t go formally active until five years past that. The DOT’s Inspector General reported serious flaws in ERAM, found it behind schedule and over budget by $500 million.

Contract management was a big part of this and the IG found that FAA staff chronically failed to fill in top executives about problems with the system. Yet … $6 million on contract bonuses were paid Lockheed Martin, even though the milestones for the bonus weren’t met. And the really complex part of NextGen is yet to come: stitching all these discrete systems into a coherent whole.

Will this be enough to tank the 2020 mandate? No one really knows, because no one can predict political climate change. Offsetting the chaos is the coming tsunami of drones that will have to integrate into the national airspace system and it seems inconceivable that ADS-B won’t be a player in this. The FAA hasn’t gotten it beyond the whiteboard stage yet, at least for public consumption.

So my advice to people who ask is to just compartmentalize the decision. Don’t worry about whether the mandate will stick or not, just absorb the cost and focus on the twin benefits of datalink weather in an easily digestible format and pretend that TIS-B (the traffic) will actually save your life one day. Otherwise, follow Satchel Paige’s ageless advice: If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

Comments (33)

ADS-B broadcast are un-encrypted and un-authenticated.
To put that into perspective, imagine that ATC is the internet and everyone in the world can see what goes on but also can put in any information they want without a password.

That security flaw alone SHOULD be enough to postpone the deadline!

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 29, 2017 10:51 AM    Report this comment

"No one is really sure what the size of the active GA fleet is and/or how many of those owners think they need ADS-B"

The FAA doesn't have a clue. For the same reasons they honestly, truly, 100% innocently expected* that the overwhelming majority of LSAs would look like "fat ultralights"--open tube-and-fabric aircraft with no electrical system, performance nowhere close to the LSA limits, and primarily used for ultralight training--they have completely and totally missed the entire ADS-B system.

They created a system that broadcasts completely in the clear, with no encryption or security, and links to a publicly-accessible tail number database (whereas, you will notice, the state DMVs consider driver's license and vehicle registration data "need-to-know" information). Then try to close the barn door after the fact by not supplying the data from FAA servers.

They created a separate ADS-B band for "light airplanes" but piled in so many restrictions and additional requirements that many light airplane owners just aren't bothering with it.

They set the requirements for equipping based on the needs of the most-demanding users (airlines operating at Class B airports) but then force that standard down to light aircraft in other airspace.

Is there anyone at the FAA that plays the role of a "red team" when proposals and policy are written? Anyone that brings a reality check to the regulators or points out the gaping flaws and obvious failure points in their cunning plans?

*I'm serious, go read the Federal Register comments from the FAA about the final Light Sport rule. It just goes to show that federal bureaucrats must be completely divorced from humanity as a whole, because real people know that anyone given a set of performance limits will do everything they can to get right up to those limits, beat them in practice while meeting the letter of the rule, or simply exceed them and pretend to follow them with a wink and a nudge.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | June 29, 2017 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I originally did ADS-B as part of an overall avionics upgrade, so I would like to think that some of the cost was defrayed in the process. That's my advice to people wondering if they should do it now or wait. If you are planning an upgrade, include it in the process. Otherwise, there are several inexpensive hand-held options available that give you traffic and weather for now. Love it or hate it, the system does provide some benefits.

On the subject of shop availability, I recently flew over to the shop for a software update to my stack. I had to make an apointment three weeks out. The shop manager told me they are very busy with installations now and it is almost exclusively ADS-B work. As Paul said, be forewarned.

Posted by: John McNamee | June 29, 2017 11:57 AM    Report this comment

Paul suggests: "I think the coming scandal is that NextGen really will run off the rails because the FAA lacks the technical expertise to manage it. It consists of many moving parts and I think it will soon be revealed that the moving parts themselves don't work very well and they work even less well when expected to integrate into a rational whole."

Perhaps this is one of the motivations behind ATC privatization ... creating an organization that can more agilely implement the NextGen concept and operate the new infrastructure? Maybe the switch is worth it to jump forward in technology for a lower net cost to all us taxpayers?

Posted by: DON HUDDLER | June 29, 2017 12:22 PM    Report this comment

ADS-B is what it is. But spending $5k to $10k on a plane that has a real-world market value of less than $30k can give proper pause to pilots in their 60s or older. Paul's advice is sound, as is that of the Moody Blues: "Breathe deep."

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | June 29, 2017 12:33 PM    Report this comment

The "strap-on" Mode-C encoders cost a few hundred bucks. Homebuilders self-install in an hour, labor cost = $0. We need something similar for ADS-B.

Posted by: Ken Keen | June 29, 2017 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Anyone know how many airlines have ADS-B installed? Have any of them tried to get the FAA to approve any installation delays?

Posted by: matthew wagner | June 29, 2017 2:43 PM    Report this comment

If ADS-B were a magic bullet, the airlines would have equipped long ago. Their failure to participate speaks volumes - about them AND about the technology.
And with apologies to Crocodile Dundee ("THAT'S not a knife!"), I still shudder each time I de-code the "S" in ADS-B. THAT'S not "surveillance."

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | June 29, 2017 3:35 PM    Report this comment

As of last month, only about 1/3 of the 20,000 $500 incentive payments had been claimed according to AOPA Pilot mag. Three of the one box solution manufacturers are now allowing A&P installs of 'out' only equipment with subsequent repair station system signoffs and yet the boxes still aren't exactly flying off the shelves. I need to buy a transponder and -- like John M above -- have decided that it'd be dumb to buy a Mode A/C box when the compliant upgrade is only about $1K. What's holding me back is the transmission of my N number in the clear and my age. Maybe that the cows I chase around BFE don't care about ADS-B, too? If I try to sell an airplane without ADS-B, will it sell? A couple of UAT manufacturers are claiming their box squawks anonymous after 10 minutes but I question what good THAT does if you've already been ID'ed earlier and it's all on tape? And, UAT solutions are generally more complicated than the one box solutions and actually cost MORE! As for drone assimilation, I don't see how it can possibly work without ALL airplanes squitting position info. Once the camel has it's nose in our tent, they'll want it everywhere!

Although few here fly at altitudes where RVSM equipment is necessary, IT could be used as a parallel example for those betting on the come, or not.

Watch for my skid marks and listen for my screams leading to an avionics retailer at Airventure. I'll probably do it but NOT willingly. OR ... I may just say to heck with it and donate my airplanes at the appropriate time. The tax write-off is likely worth more than THEY are?

Meanwhile, a small startup firm in the Bay area is now selling a small and cheap box that COULD meet the requirements except NOT in a Cessna or Piper. And portable ADS-B equipment is authorized for light GA use in the UK (SIGH!!).

I, too, HAVE to say it ... the FAA ... making simple stuff hard since 1958!

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 30, 2017 1:15 AM    Report this comment

I just got my $500 rebate check in the mail. Sure it was a fraction of the cost up upgrading my transponder, but there is a very real potential benefit that may be far more than the cost of the upgrade. I purchased my transponder from Aircraft Spruce along with a custom harness. My idea was to install it under the guidance of my A&P and then have an avionics shop tie it to my existing Garmin 430W. I did this - and while it was about 3 days to do the installation myself (1.5 weekends), it did little for me after it was turned on and worked as a regular transponder. A couple of months later I contact my avionics shop and asked them to connect the transponder to the Garmin and program the works. They informed me of an airspace switch I would need and new antenna coax for the transponder and quoted about a day's labor to do the work. On the way back from picking up the airplane from the shop, all looked the same in the panel. But I saw traffic on my Garmin GDL-39 like I had never seen before. I could not believe it! The various out signals from my transponder that somehow tickle ground towers and other transponders now makes traffic show up I never knew was there. Avoiding a close call with just one of these newly found traffic targets in the air would be worth the installation cost and worth the piece of mind for less close calls. The other benefits of lower current to the new solid-state unit versus my older tube-type unit probably will never matter much, but whether NexGen ever happens or not, I do like "seeing" more traffic than ever before. So here are some ideas to save yourself some money on the installation: Schedule your install during an annual - at least the physical and basic installation of the transponder. Your mechanic can do that and your I/A can sign off the basic installation. Then arrange for your avionics shop to tie it in and do "their thing" when your next Pitot-static/transponder check is due. Did I want to have to spend this money? No. Did it add to safety? I think so. Does that at least help make it worthwhile? The answer for me is yes. Blue skies to all! Richard Rickles - KPDK Atlanta, GA

Posted by: Richard Rickles | June 30, 2017 4:49 AM    Report this comment

Where are the $30 ADS-B chips that every single drone will require?

By 2020 NASA and private industry will have Beyond Visual Line of Sight traffic integration and management figured out.

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | June 30, 2017 6:24 AM    Report this comment

Larry: The Coachella Valley Youth Aviation Education program is accepting "tax-deductible" donations. Go to for more information. The CVYAEP "Promoting new starts in aviation."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 30, 2017 9:27 AM    Report this comment

I recently hopped on a flight with Cape Air.

This little airline operates Cessna twins from before I learned to fly. They had mostly original equipment except a new ADSB transponder and a Garmin 430. No back up GPS, no glass panel, pretty much minimalist.

They seemed like a great little outfit, but I'm reminded that airlines will always go cheap. Combine this with governments always pushing the burden onto the governed, and I got pretty steamed about having to buy a new gps and transponder for my plane.

The airlines, with our consent and only strong influence over the FAA pushed a lot of the their costs onto us with this ADSB nonsense as well as with ever expanding controlled airspace which tends to destroy small airports caught under it already.

I can't imagine what the next requirement will be once the airlines get control of the airspace under privatization. The US is quite different from other countries, and the idea things won't be worse here than there under a privatization scheme is just proof of amnesia. How many private little airplanes are there outside the US? Not many, and fewer every day.

Posted by: Eric Warren | June 30, 2017 10:10 AM    Report this comment

It's too early, Raf ... but I can see the light at the end of my tunnel. I gots 4 years or so unless I come down with one of the three dreaded maladies.

For all, Richard R brings up a couple of the many subtleties involved with upgrading to full ADS-B 'out.' The Mode S ES capable box he started with needs an airspeed switch to automatically tell it that it's flying v. taxiing. (Until he hooked it to his 430W, it was just a Mode S box). Others do it with internal software and that's one advantage of a one box solution.. In days of old, they used single shielded coax. The new standard is RG400 double shielded which isn't cheap but is spec'ed in the manuals hence why they required it. One manufacturer has a patented method of sharing the transponder antenna with the portable 'in' box such that you have an antenna on the belly squitting ADS-B 'out' and when it's not, can feed the 'in' portable. Another way to do this would be to add a second transponder antenna for better LOS to the ground stations. If the WAAS GPS source is external, both the source unit and it's software version must match. And so on.

In the beginning, EACH airplane had to be individually certified ... even if they were identical. At least now, there's an AML and they're finally allowing A&Ps to do the simple installations. For me, the one box solutions are the way to go ... makes everything much simpler AND if your external source goes down, your 'out' function still works.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 30, 2017 10:22 AM    Report this comment

Non-ads-b-compliant aircraft, after Jan. 1, 2020, will continue to fly below 10,000 ft and outside of Class B and C airspace. Flights from California to Florida and from the Mexican to the Canadian borders and into Class D airports will be allowed, as is now. BUT, I sense devious minds churning.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 30, 2017 10:43 AM    Report this comment

"ADS-B broadcast are un-encrypted and un-authenticated."

So is Mode-A/C/S, for what it's worth. And if you have a UAT-only system, some of them anyway let you put it in anonymous mode (so it's basically the same as a Mode-C).

"A couple of UAT manufacturers are claiming their box squawks anonymous after 10 minutes"

The Garmin GDL88 (UAT) is supposed to allow you to user-select anonymous mode at any time.

"only about 1/3 of the 20,000 $500 incentive payments had been claimed"

Unfortunately for my flying club, the rebate became available after we already added ADS-B, so we were explicitly forbidden from claiming the $500 rebate (times 3, for 3 planes). And a surprising number of aircraft owners don't seem to realize that the rebate even exists. These two factors would likely double the number of rebates claimed.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | June 30, 2017 2:27 PM    Report this comment

"...So is Mode-A/C/S"

No, Mode C pairs with expensive, ground based FAA radar.
ADS-B can be injected and spoofed by anyone with ill will and a handful of mail order parts.
ADS-B can also be received by anyone with ill will and a handful of mail order parts.

As I pilot, I don't want anyone in the world tracking my every movement for billing, advertisement, when I'm home or not, complaints (or even local, state and federal police being able to track me without cause or warrant).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | June 30, 2017 5:50 PM    Report this comment

On anonymous. As it is now, staying away from Class B, C, not overflying Class C lateral limits and the Class B Veil, then flying at or below 10,000 will save you a lot of money and still be anonymous and legal. No need for ADS-B out required. However, I'm beginning to believe that this exclusion will be rescinded. Perhaps as part of the ATC privatization program.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 30, 2017 7:49 PM    Report this comment

From the Be Careful What You Ask For department:
Dors anyone in this forum know what will happen when several million ADS-B-equipped UAVs occupy the nation's airspace simultaneously?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | June 30, 2017 8:18 PM    Report this comment

Passive submission YARS.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 1, 2017 6:37 AM    Report this comment

Raf: Consider a swarm of say, 100,000 UAVs servicing an urban area during daylight hours - all of them dutifully reporting their positions with ADS-B out. At what density of local ADS-B OUT transmissions does the overall system's IN capabilities become academic?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 1, 2017 8:56 AM    Report this comment

@Rafael: "However, I'm beginning to believe that this exclusion will be rescinded."

It seems like it must be terminated at some point to accommodate the (forecast) UAS flood ... It seems reasonable that all a/c must participate in ADS-B to facilitate UAS operation, particularly at lower altitudes.

Posted by: DON HUDDLER | July 1, 2017 9:03 AM    Report this comment

YARS and Don, good points. Assume al manned aircraft (or autonomous) with ADS-B OUT then design the UAS ADS-B with a REPEL capability from manned and/or other UASs.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 1, 2017 9:29 AM    Report this comment

Somewhere, I think I heard that any ADS-B out from UAS would be low power ... kinda like Bluetooth. Using RAF's idea, if a UAS detected a full power aircraft signal, it would do something ... maybe like the tape on Mission Impossible ... destroy itself and go away forever. WAIT! WAIT! My beer and pizza was on that drone.

A scheme to ID drone v. aircraft could probably be incorporated into the 'out' bitstream? But using ADS-B as THE method for drones is going to be problematic, as Yars opines. It's more likely that UAV's will "listen" for airplanes and use their own system but ... who knows? One thing is for sure ... IF they go that way, ADS-B "everywhere" will become the next thing they spring on us.

No one has yet mentioned that the FAA -- itself -- was fearful that if all of GA installed Mode S ES ADS-B 'out,' it'd overwhelm their system. That's why they invented the UAT secondary method. Now, with one box solutions becoming available and popular, I think the UAT method -- including the ridiculous ADS-R idea -- could be at risk? Especially when costs start mounting and the bean counters get involved. Unless an aircraft has a good operable solid state transponder, going UAT wouldn't be MY way of solving the problem ... AND it's more complex and costly, too.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | July 1, 2017 10:08 AM    Report this comment

What is the point of saturation on UATs?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 1, 2017 10:56 AM    Report this comment

Birds and mosquitos haven't yet reached saturation.....

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 1, 2017 12:06 PM    Report this comment

I'll agree with the principal argument. I hate being told what to do!

However, two years ago I was able to equip my aircraft with ADS-B, datalink weather and excellent traffic information for under $3k. The equipment is worth the money.

You may argue whether or not you would choose to spend the money in the first place, but you can't really say that there's no value to GA.

Posted by: Isaac Silver | July 1, 2017 1:20 PM    Report this comment

ADS-B is here to stay. Now it is about midairs, NMACs and S-E-P-A-R-A-T-I-O-N. I'd guess that UAVs will be separated as any other aircraft. So the saturation point is relative.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 1, 2017 3:34 PM    Report this comment

This calls for one of my Expert System lectures. ;-)
You, me and Stencil, at a minimum; conference call. If we record the conversation, we can edit it into a podcast.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 1, 2017 7:30 PM    Report this comment

YARS, I agree. However, I would include all of the 73 UAS ID ARC members. It should make for a great party. Stay sharp.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 1, 2017 10:46 PM    Report this comment

Raf: Too many cooks? With apologies to Glenn Beck, this space is for a combination of entertainment and enlightenment. There are lots of regular denizens who I'm certain could provide plenty of both.
But the space limits here constrain the depth to which we can dive into any topic. That's not a bug; it's a feature.
But it surely would be both entertaining and enlightening to explore crush-depth with the collective intellect of Paul and his comentariat. We'll need at least two kegs, to get started. And a BIG bug-zapper. That's some fancy hangar-flying! ;-)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 2, 2017 8:56 AM    Report this comment

I'm kinda busy just now figuring a way to add an external data entry keypad to my Mode S ES ADS-B transponder which will allow me to dial in my pilot license ID and password and add it to the outgoing bitstream being squitted. That way, ATC will have my N number and definitively know who is actuating the stick. Of course, the stream won't be encoded so state taxing authorities can put their demands upon us when we enter 'their' airspace. Automated violations can be emailed, too, so don't you go nicking any Class D or higher without permission. I predict this'll happen.

TWO KEGS ... where's the hangar?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | July 2, 2017 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Screw the keyboard. Pets R Us is having a special on subdural RFID transmitters. Just get a thumb-drive-format reader from Amazon, and plug it in to your e-junkpile. As soon as you climb into the vehicle, the appropriate authorities will know that it's you! Easy-peasy.
I'll bring my 8-burner tailgating grill.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 2, 2017 10:57 AM    Report this comment

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