Time For An FAA Reset On ADS-B

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Last week, without much fanfare, Seattle Avionics announced that it’s marketing a new portable dual-band ADS-B In product from uAvionix. It’s called the pingBuddy2 and sells for the eye-opening price of $149. Recall that I reported on uAvionix in this piece I shot at the AEA show in New Orleans last week.

The pingBuddy2 is significant for a couple of reasons. One is the utterly disruptive price. Heretofore, the dual-band portables have sold for six to nearly 10 times as much. I’m thinking here of the Stratus 2S, the Sagetech Clarity and the Levil Technology iLevil 3 SW. To be sure, these aren’t exact comparisons because the more expensive products include onboard GPS and AHARS that put some backup gyro capability on a tablet. One version of the iLevil even has pitot-static input. By comparison, the pingBuddy2 offers just ADS-B In for TIS-B and FIS-B access. You’re on your own to provide it with GPS position data, either through the tablet’s built-in GPS or an external like Garmin’s GLO.

The bigger picture here is that uAvionix, looking forward, is leveraging volume in the drone market to effect some interesting economy of scale. But at this point, it’s somewhat aspirational volume because the requirement for ADS-B on drones hasn’t materialized yet. My guess is it will, but it will take a while. But uAvionix, with its full line of miniature avionics, is betting on that future.

The plus for GA owners and pilots is that even though uAvionix’s market is overwhelmingly in the UAS space, it sees some opportunity to disrupt ADS-B prices for manned aircraft. The company told me late last week that it will be announcing something ahead of Sun ‘n Fun, most likely for the experimental market. This could represent a significant price break. Could that eventually result in significantly cheaper ADS-B Out solution for owners still balking about equipping? Well, maybe. But “significant” is in the eye of the beholder and the trick part here is will the vastly larger demand for UAS ADS-B materialize before the 2020 mandate deadline? My guess is it won’t, because the FAA hasn’t even settled on regulations for the larger drones that will fly in the airspace with manned aircraft, much less figured out how and when to require ADS-B for Part 107 operations.

The argument for those little drones having ADS-B—and you equipping your own airplane—is compelling. The low-power systems uAvionix is producing don’t need to ping ground stations or pipe data into TIS-B or be engaged with ADS-R.

They just need a simple ADS-B Out pulse so you can see them in your equipped airplane. If you’re really worried about the risk of colliding with a small drone, that’s the argument for equipping both aircraft with ADS-B.

As a point of public policy, the FAA should now look at the potential of volume-driven ADS-B equipage and how it could reach its goal of full participation. Despite all the positive spin you may have heard, the rate of equipage is still lagging. Whether that’s related to cost or cost and other factors is anyone’s guess. My guess is that it’s not all cost. But cheaper—vastly cheaper—ADS-B Out solutions can’t possibly hurt the effort and may very well ignite the torrent of demand the FAA so desperately wants.

To achieve this, the agency simply needs to relax—or eliminate—any kind of TSO requirement for certified ADS-B. It’s lunacy and utterly counterproductive that an RV-8 can run around in the same airspace that a Skyhawk can, but the latter requires a more expensive certified ADS-B receiver. This is at the core of the squabble NavWorx is having with the FAA, which insists that the company’s GPS solution for its low-cost ADS-B boxes doesn’t meet the TSO requirement, even though it meets the TSO performance specs. The FAA is just making it that much more difficult and expensive to equip over an inconsequential technical fine point.

Removing the TSO and certification hoops would make it much more likely that a company like uAvionix could bring cheaper ADS-B to the market. Could we see an under $1000 solution suitable for certified airplanes? uAvionix thinks so, especially if the drone demand it sees over the horizon materializes. But it may not be in time to meet the 2020 witching hour. Still, better late than never.

And while we’re at it, why not just junk the entire idea of TSOs? It’s an idea whose time may be done.