Printed headline: Countdown to 2020
On Jan. 1, 2020, airlines operating in U.S. airspace must be in compliance with the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) “Out” mandate, regardless of country of registration. A similar requirement goes into effect in Europe on June 7 of next year. With the deadlines fast approaching, a considerable retrofit market continues to exist, as numerous aircraft are still noncompliant.
Citing FAA statistics valid as of Nov. 1, 2018, Terry Flaishans, president of ACSS (Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems), in Phoenix, reports that some 3,300 aircraft operated by U.S. carriers have been retrofitted for ADS-B Out, out of a total U.S. retrofit market estimated at 5,000-6,000 airline-operated aircraft.
“U.S. carriers have generally been more proactive, globally, with ADS-B Out retrofits, thanks to the FAA’s ‘Equip 2020’ program, which, starting in 2016, has helped airlines as well as general aviation aircraft operators, prepare to meet the mandate,” says Flaishans.
In Europe, a significant number of aircraft may not meet the June 7, 2020 deadline, according to Alexander Krause, product sales manager for avionics and flight deck solutions at Lufthansa Technik in Germany. As Krause reports, the latest Eurocontrol survey (ADS-B Implementation Plan—SESAR Deployment Manager, Nov. 15, 2018) shows that more than 7,750 aircraft are affected by the mandate. Of those, the survey analyzed data from more than 3,700 aircraft and based on that analysis, an estimated 15-25% will not be compliant in time.
ADS-B Out automatically communicates an aircraft’s position, within a specific airspace, to air traffic controllers via a system of satellites and ground stations. This gives controllers a more precise, real-time view of the aircraft’s location, altitude and airspeed data than conventional radar-based systems, enabling more efficient flow control of a larger number of aircraft.
ADS-B Out compliance requires the installation of a complex system of multiple line-replaceable units (LRU) to be updated and certified, according to Kurt Kraft, vice president for modification and engineering for Boeing Global Services. “The ATC Transponder, GPS and [traffic collision avoidance system]LRUs are required to work seamlessly with one another, and different versions may be required by the different mandates,” he explains, adding that LRU procurement is typically managed between the airline and avionics supplier. Boeing, notes Kraft, provides its customers with a service bulletin for ADS-B Out modifications.
As more information and updated equipment have become available, Boeing has kept its customers informed of their options, Kraft says.
“Many airplane configurations required a substantial amount of wiring updates, so stand-alone wiring packages were offered that allowed customers to incorporate the needed wiring during already scheduled maintenance activities, with the option to complete the modification once the ADS-B Out equipment was procured,” he says.
Suppliers Are Ready
Even with the large number of noncompliant aircraft at this late date, suppliers appear to be in a position to fulfill orders in advance of the mandate, says Mark Lynch, head of engineering for aircraft lessor GECAS. However, he cautions, there may be issues with orders placed after March 2019. Another concern could involve the number of float units available to support the retrofit campaigns. “The staggering of the 2020 implementation dates between the FAA and EASA [European Aviation Safety Agency] will be helpful in supporting the retrofit effort,” he notes.
Collins Aerospace (formerly Rockwell Collins) is expecting a surge in retrofit demand as the deadline approaches. “We have already seen the numbers trend up significantly in the last 12 months, mainly in the U.S.,” says Mike McDowell, communications, navigation, surveillance marketing manager for commercial avionics. “There is also some, but not as much, uptick in demand in Europe. The large commercial carriers were already well-prepared; now, we are starting to see the smaller operators—those with 20 or fewer aircraft—come forward,” he says.
To accommodate a surge, says McDowell, Collins Aerospace has significantly ramped up its transponder production rate. The OEM also has taken measures to increase its throughput for service bulletin upgrades to existing transponders. “We have added test stations to perform the ADS-B Out upgrades on the transponders and return them to service,” he says. “We have also expanded our capacity for production of new transponders by adding people to the manufacturing side of the business.”
Asked about MRO capacity to perform ADS-B Out equipage installations at this time, McDowell was a little more cautious. “We have seen the potential for a shortage of availability at repair facilities to implement the new or upgraded hardware and to make the wiring changes necessary to meet the ADS-B Out requirements,” he notes.
Flaishans at ACSS says his company had anticipated the possibility of a last-minute rush to equip and consequently took an early lead in building up its inventory of transponders. “We were very aggressive in establishing an adequate supply chain,” he says. “At the same time, we offered some incentive pricing for early adopters.”
ACSS, he points out, holds an FAA Organization Designation Authorization (ODA), which allows the OEM to sign off on an ADS-B Out installation supplemental type certificate (STC). “Some airlines are installing the transponders under an ACSS STC, but in other cases, ACSS will work with the airline to develop an STC that they can use to install the transponder, in-house,” he says.
Lufthansa Technik’s Krause reports that the MRO has finalized preparations and is in the certification phase of solutions for widebodies concerning the ADS-B Out FAA mandate to equip all aircraft flying into the U.S. with GPS sources compatible with satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS). “This will allow airline operators to plan ahead and combine this modification with upcoming checks in the future,” he explains. “In this way, they will meet the mandate in time and avoid flight delays due to the FAA required use of SAPT (the service availability prediction tool) prior to each flight—if not equipped with SBAS-capable GPS sources.”
According to Krause, Lufthansa Technik offered price breaks for early retrofits, but interestingly enough, not many of its customers took advantage of them. He attributes that to the fact that there were “reasonable doubts” as to whether the mandate’s European deadline would be extended.
“Airline operators have waited too long, hoping for an extension, and now many MRO shops have already reached their capacity limits for the next year,” says Krause. “Everyone not equipped yet should take immediate action and contact their local MRO for reserving the last remaining [slots] throughout 2019.”
Lynch, at GECAS, also warns that MRO schedules for ADS-B Out installations are filling up: “MRO capacity is already extremely tight, and getting access to a slot for a standalone modification may be difficult.” In that regard, Lynch says that not all aircraft will be ready for ADS-B Out by the deadline. “What is not clear is whether this will be a few individual aircraft or a more widespread issue,” he says.
Major airlines appear to be on track to meet the mandate. “At American Airlines, we have been working closely with our vendors for over two years to obtain ADS-B Out compliance,” says Ron Thomas, managing director of flight operations. “Some units were purchased new, while others were upgraded.”
The modifications, Thomas explains, are being accomplished with planning for them contingent on the age of the aircraft. Aircraft with all the hardware and software provisions in place can be upgraded to ADS-B Out compliance during an overnight check. But those with some or none of the provisions need to be completed either in a special maintenance visit or combined with another maintenance event. In some cases, he states, that can take around 100 labor-hours to complete.
Thomas adds that nearly all of the carrier’s fleet needed upgrades, with the exception of its Boeing 787s and other recent new deliveries, compliant out of the factory. “Our oldest 737, 757, 767 and Airbus A319, 320 and 321 aircraft require the most work.”
In general, the FAA has been “very comfortable with the equipment compliance rates” for ADS-B Out by the airlines, says Chuck Cook, general manager for communications, navigation, surveillance and technical programs for JetBlue Airways in New York. “Jet Blue, for example, signed contracts with suppliers early enough to assure having the necessary equipment to meet the mandate,” he explains.
JetBlue bundled the installation of the ADS-B Out equipment with heavy maintenance checks. “We looked at our preexisting heavy maintenance planning and scheduled the ADS-B Out installations at the time we knew the aircraft would be out of service,” says Cook. “If we were to have done standalone ADS-B Out installations, each aircraft would have been kept out of service for about two days.”
Cook reports that JetBlue’s entire fleet of 260 aircraft—Airbus A320/321s and Embraer 190s—is slated for ADS-B Out compliance by September.
Interestingly, JetBlue will be ADS-B Out compliant under the FAA’s Exemption 12555, which allows for the continued use of older types of GPS navigation receivers already installed on some aircraft, Cook points out.
The exemption, he reports, was granted because GPS multimode receivers, with a higher precision level than those in use today, would not be available in large enough quantities for the transponders by the 2020 due date. Under the exemption, the airlines have a five-year window to upgrade, with expiration in 2025.