Is ADS-B Over?
During the opening of the Aircraft Electronics Association show in New Orleans Monday, AEA chairman David Loso made a remark that caught my ear. He said it was time to think about life after ADS-B.
Welcome as that sounds, I’m not sure we’re quite there yet. The ADS-B 2020 mandate is but 33 months away and the general aviation fleet is a long way from being equipped to operate in the mandated airspace. Although installation volume is picking up, only about 20,000 aircraft are equipped out of a fleet variously estimated to number about 160,000, according to one manufacturer I spoke to Monday. I’ve heard that number many times. We’re not even a quarter of the way there yet. If you do the quick math and reduce the number of eligible aircraft to say, 130,000, the avionics industry will need to do about 3300 installs a month or more than 100 a day until the finish line. Is that even doable? AEA President Paula Derks says it is and that the association’s member shops will staff up and resource the problem with whatever it takes to meet the deadline.
Whether it’s doable or not doable, one thing is becoming clear to me: It’s quite possible that many owners simply aren’t interested in this technology because they either don’t see the value or don’t plan to fly in the mandated airspace, which roughly corresponds to where Mode-C transponders are required now.
Perversely, it’s almost as if you can’t pay some owners to install ADS-B. Recall that last fall, the FAA put into effect its $500 rebate program for would-be ADS-B buyers. The program runs for a year and we’re seven months into that, yet the uptake has been lukewarm at best. As of last month, only about 4000 owners had taken advantage of the rebate and fewer than 3000 had stepped through all the hoops necessary to get the check in the mail. The program has funding for 20,000 installations and hasn’t reached even a quarter of that. If you’re interested, better get busy. The program will likely time out before the money runs out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the FAA extend the rebate deadline. To be fair, it was a noble and honest effort at pump priming. It’s just that the market is cranky and resistant to getting on board.
One reason for the lackluster response is that in the overall scheme of aircraft ownership, $500 is—sorry, FAA—a mere bagatelle. It’s even more trifling when you consider the airplane has to be flown to and in airspace where the required FAA data collection can be done, collected and validated before the check is cut. One shop owner told me that owners don’t see overwhelming value in this process and I don’t think I do either. It’s a nice to have, maybe, but not a motivator.
I think some owners are still occupying the fence slats awaiting the clouds to part for a better deal. I doubt if it’s coming from the FAA, nor do I expect any price breakthroughs in the hardware. The manufacturers are already at rock-bottom margins and there’s not much wiggle room left to reduce prices. I see no reason to expect shops to suddenly devise assembly line practices that cut installation costs much below the $1500 to $2000 threshold we’re seeing now. In ADS-B, what you see now is pretty much what you’re going to get.
On Monday, NavWorx announced a low price on their ADS600-B UAT product of $1499. It assumes you have a WAAS GPS position source aboard, since it has none of its own. Typically, that should install all-in for $3000 to $4000 and is about as cheap as I think these things are going to get. As an upsell, it even has wireless capability, so if you still think the required ATC part of the deal is a loser, you can at least get FIS-B weather and TIS-B traffic on your tablet. If I needed to fly in the mandated airspace, I’d find that tradeoff worth the investment. I get that owners are becoming fed up with mandatory upgrades, equipment and rules, but there’s nothing particularly new about this. Bluntly, if you can’t afford these modest expenditures, think about a cheap legacy LSA or an older airplane in which you don’t need to navigate the mandated airspace.
Unpleasant as this reality may be, it is nonetheless reality. At least you can recover $500 if you get busy between now and next September. Maybe a small bagatelle is better than none at all.