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Airlines, FAA Discussing ‘Grace Period’ For ADS-B Out Rule

U.S. airlines expect that FAA will allow a five-year “grace period” for full compliance with the agency’s 2010 mandate that carriers’ aircraft be Automatic Depe

MIAMI—U.S. airlines expect that FAA will allow a five-year “grace period” for full compliance with the agency’s 2010 mandate that carriers’ aircraft be Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out capable by Jan. 1, 2020.

Speaking April 14 at the Aviation Week MRO Americas conference in Miami, Bob Ireland, Airlines for America (A4A) managing director-maintenance and engineering, said airlines have been working with FAA to find a solution to logistical problems that would stem from equipping thousands of aircraft with ADS-B Out avionics by 2020. He said A4A filed a petition with FAA this month that “we expect” to be accepted and that would allow airlines to file a plan to FAA detailing how they will achieve full compliance with the ADS-B Out mandate by 2025. An airline’s plan for compliance—if approved by FAA—would allow the carrier to be in accordance with the ADS-B Out rule.

A4A believes a “five-year transition period” after the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline is needed because of the number of aircraft that need to be retrofitted (4,800-5,800) with hardware that in some cases won’t be available by 2020. However, Ireland said, “There is still the expectation that transponders [able to communicate with GPS satellites] will be in place [on aircraft] by 2020.”

But the transponders would be able to be wired to older GPS units than the FAA mandate requires, as long as an airline has an FAA-approved plan to have the level of avionics the ADS-B Out rule mandates by 2025.

FAA Avionics Maintenance Branch Manager Tim Shaver, also speaking at MRO Americas, noted that FAA has done its part by installing over 630 ADS-B ground stations in the U.S. But he acknowledged that, in terms of equipping the entire U.S. airline fleet, “it’s not that much time before 2020 will be upon us.” He conceded FAA won’t initially enforce the ADS-B Out rule with a “hammer.”

United Parcel Service (UPS) has been at the forefront of ADS-B equipage, installing ADS-B transponders on more than 200 aircraft. UPS Airlines Advanced Flight Manager Christian Kast said the cargo operator has identified potential problems with the 2020 mandate. For example, under the FAA rule, an aircraft wouldn’t be allowed to take off if a transponder fail light is illuminated in the cockpit.

But the failure may not be the airline’s fault, Kast pointed out. “It could in fact be that the GPS signal is not available,” he said, noting that a tall building near where an aircraft is parked could block the signal, or  that there could be GPS jamming occurring in a given area.

“This could be a bad thing,” Kast said. “The transponder fail light might be illuminated and you can’t go.” FAA is “working on resolving that issue before 2020,” he added.

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