To the relief of many airlines and operators of heavy business aircraft, Europe has extended its ADS-B (Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast) Out compliance deadline by three years, to 2020, under a recently agreed-upon amendment to the rule, slated for publication by year-end 2014.
ADS-B Out will provide air traffic controllers with far more accurate and timely aircraft positioning information than conventional radar. Positioning information is automatically transmitted with greater frequency from the aircraft to ground station networks, via satellite, enabling air traffic control providers to handle more aircraft at any given time with a higher degree of safety.
Under the amended rule, any aircraft flying an IFR/GAT flight plan in European airspace, with a maximum takeoff weight of more than 5,700 kg (12,566 lb.), or a cruise speed of over 250 kt. true air speed, will have to be ADS-B Out-compliant with forward fit of ADS-B Out equipage no later than June 8, 2016, and with retrofits completed by June 7, 2019. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not extending the mandate to light, general aviation aircraft.
But despite the deadline extension, there is some question as to whether air carriers and other affected aircraft owners will be prepared when ADS-B Out goes viral in Europe, even though the equipage is not complex. It simply requires an extended squitter (ES)-equipped Mode S transponder incorporating software meeting DO-260B/DO-181E standards. On a commercial aircraft, there are two transponders working in tandem with two or three selective availability awareness (S-Aware) GPS receivers. In Europe, installations would be done under an EASA E-TSO, and in most situations, the retrofits can be accomplished without major alterations to the aircraft’s existing avionics infrastructure.
The size of the European ADS-B Out retrofit market is hard to gauge. For example, ACSS loosely estimates 5,000 aircraft out of a global total of 15,000, according to Arnold Oldach, the company’s marketing director. Oldach reports that ACSS was the first to certify a DO-260B/DO-181E-compliant ADS-B Out Mode S transponder—its Model XS-950—for airlines, with installations on JetBlue, US Airways and UPS aircraft.
On the more conservative side, Tim Taylor, president and CEO of FreeFlight Systems, an ADS-B Out- compliant GPS supplier, predicts a European retrofit market of 1,500, out of a global estimate of 6,000 aircraft. The company’s major focus is on narrowbody and widebody legacy commercial jets.
These numbers, if at all accurate, suggest that as the mid-2019 European retrofit date approaches, MRO capacity could be jammed. “Based on our observations, a last-minute surge [for retrofits] seems likely, since some airlines will anticipate further delays with the mandate, and even exemptions,” says Erik Lous, product manager, modifications at Fokker Services in the Netherlands.
Taylor agrees, attributing this potential scenario to the European authorities, “which had been much less clear about what is required, and when it’s required.” For instance, he cites the slippage in compliance dates. “If you’re a European carrier, you might be tempted to think they will slip again and wait that much longer to retrofit your aircraft,” he says.
But Taylor quickly adds that at least there is a clearer pathway to ADS-B Out, now that Europe has decided to follow the U.S. and Australia, which he says have the most vigorous and stringent certification equipment standards. “By doing this, what is required in Europe for ADS-B Out is now very well understood.”
In fact, for the first time, says Taylor, FreeFlight Systems has “noted long-term planning” on the part of European operators of legacy aircraft concerning how the retrofits could be made to fit into the aircraft maintenance cycles, going forward.
“We’re just starting to see decisions being made about holding on to specific airframes and making the ADS-B Out modifications—and customers are moving ahead,” he says. “For example, we currently have eight STC
projects underway with various MROs and STC engineering consulting companies in Europe involving classic aircraft,” compared to none in 2013.
While there might be some momentum toward retrofits, suppliers are still expressing concern about whether European carriers will meet the ADS-B Out deadline, based on the sheer numbers of aircraft involved. ACSS’s Oldach stresses that while there has been some ramp-up, the airlines are not equipping fast enough.
“There are about five and a half years left to meet the mandate, and with such a large number of aircraft to be done in such a short time, there will be a crunch for MRO space and work,” he says, pointing out that at least 150 aircraft per month would need to be ADS-B Out retrofitted, based on a combined U.S. and European fleet of 10,000. “If I were an airline or operator, I’d be extremely concerned about getting these updates done in such a small amount of time.”
Scott Miller, product line director, TCAS and transponders for Honeywell Aerospace, notes that when it comes to meeting mandates of any kind, airlines “typically wait as long as possible” before moving ahead with compliance. That, he stresses, may not be advisable this time.
“With both the European and FAA ADS-B Out retrofit deadlines now aligned to 2020, the challenge will be to assure the MRO capacity is there to enable the airlines to meet both mandates,” Miller cautions. “That’s why we are urging our airline customers to get in early.”
Honeywell, reports Miller, is seeing “only a trickle of activity” involving certifications of upgrades to transponder and GPS systems on the commercial aircraft, although he says they are happening at a “much faster pace” with large business jets.
“There may be some expansion of activity for commercial aircraft beginning about 2016,” he predicts, adding that Honeywell is expecting to receive its first certification of an ADS-B Out solution on a Boeing or Airbus aircraft in 2015.
However, Miller also raises another factor giving European airlines pause. In Europe, he says, the ground-based infrastructure has not been completely installed, and some airlines are waiting to see how that develops. “At the same time, there has been some discussion concerning a space-based infrastructure in place of a ground system, which is also causing the airlines to take a wait-and-see approach. They don’t want to invest in a lot of new equipment until they have a better idea of the technology they’ll have to invest in, based on where the infrastructure is going.”
That raises a valid point. According to Skip Nelson, president and CEO of ADS-B Technologies, Europe will need to install 500 ground stations, involving multiple vendors and air navigation service providers. “That could lead to some issues that we did not experience in the U.S., where we awarded a contract to a single vendor,” he explains. “Europe created a very aggressive schedule—even when it moved the compliance date. That’s why the main issue for European ADS-B Out will be getting the targets [ground stations] on the grass, as well as getting enough installers to install the avionics.”
As the 2020 ADS-B Out deadline gets closer, Rockwell Collins is trying to prevent a last-minute rush by providing special price incentives for early adopters, says Thierry Tosi, the avionics OEM’s Service Organization vice president. “Few if any airlines have done the GPS modification, but we are starting to receive RFPs—and we are in the RFP response stage,” he says.
Based on historical experience, Tosi believes that retrofit activity will increase closer to 2020, which could have consequences.
“If airlines don’t order the equipment well in advance, it is likely the OEMs will have to go into allocation management mode—prioritizing which customers will be served first,” he cautions. “This means that there will be a logistics impact and no pricing incentives—which are likely to be cut off within two to three years before the mandate.”
Tosi explains that Rockwell Collins-built transponders in service today will be upgradeable to DO-260B/DO-181E, with certification of the upgrade currently in progress. Rockwell Collins GPS receiver shipped prior to 2007 are S-Aware upgradeable with a software change, while the GPS multi-mode receivers shipped since that time are already ADS-B Out- compliant. Boeing, he adds, already has approved Rockwell Collins’s GPS S-Aware reconfiguration, while Airbus’s approval is pending.
ADS-B Out upgrades, according to Fokker Services’ Erik Lous, can be accomplished in most cases within a day, which could blunt the impact from a late demand-surge. “We do not see a principal MRO capacity issue,” he says. But that expression of optimism assumes the components are in hand. And that may be an issue in the run-up to the mandate.
“Airbus is telling us that, right now, there is a about a three to four month lead time on ADS-B Out OEM upgrade kits for the A320 fleet. And we don’t know to what extent that will increase as the mandate gets closer,” says Rogier van der Velde, engineering department manager for SGI Aviation, an Amsterdam-based aircraft management and consulting firm, which focuses on Airbus jets. He also reports that each upgrade project will differ to some degree, since there are so many aircraft with different wiring and other infrastructure configurations.
For example, he explains, based on data SGI Aviation has received from Airbus, A320s built since 2000 already have the wiring configuration in place to accommodate the ADS-B Out modification. Of the estimated 1,000 A320s built prior to 2000, 400 are operating in Europe.
Van der Velde sees peak demand for the ADS-B Out modification in Europe from the 2018-19 timeframe and believes that Europe’s major airlines will be compliant before. But he also predicts that the mandate may force some operators to retire older model jets such as the Boeing 737 Classics.
“SGI Aviation was contacted recently by a Boeing 737-400 operator to manage an ADS-B Out modification,” he notes. “We contacted Boeing to find out if they had an ADS-B Out off-shelf solution for any 737 Classics. Although they said they are working on one, they also indicated it could possibly be priced in the seven-figure range. This leads me to believe the OEM solution may not be economically viable on aircraft of this type and age. Operators will either retire the aircraft or take the less-costly STC route.”
In that regard, Van der Velde says that SGI Aviation has made inquiries among independent engineering firms and found that six or seven companies were working on an ADS-B Out solution for the 737 Classics, and of that group, one company claimed to have an off-shelf solution, ready to go. He predicts that could represent a trend, although non-OEM solutions could present a problem with lease agreement compliance.
“Some lessors demand an OEM solution, rather than an STC, for any kind of modification,” he says. “So this will at least become a point of discussion between a number of operators and the leasing companies.”
European ADS-B Out Mandate Compliance At A Glance
June 8, 2016 – Forward fit of required ADS-B Out equipage on all new aircraft with a MTOW greater than 5,700 kg and maximum cruise speed over 250 KTAS.
June 7, 2019 – Deadline for retrofit of legacy aircraft of more than 5,700 kg MTOW and over 250 KTAS maximum cruise speed with ADS-B Out equipage.
Jan. 2, 2020 – Air navigation service providers responsible for the ground infrastructure must ensure that their surveillance system has the necessary capability to allow them to establish individual aircraft identification using downlinked aircraft identification made available by aircraft equipped in accordance with Mode S Enhanced Surveillance and ADS-B Out.