The U.S. Defense Department and the FAA are negotiating to allow some military aircraft that will not be equipped to signal their position via automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) to continue operating beyond the FAA’s Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B equipage deadline.
The FAA published the ADS-B “Out” regulation in May 2010; it requires that aircraft flying above 18,000 ft. or internationally be fitted with GPS and Mode S Extended Squitter (1090 MHz) transponders to regularly broadcast their position to ground controllers—the function called ADS-B Out. Lower-flying aircraft operating in controlled airspace must have GPS and 978 MHz universal access transceivers.
Civilian as well as military progress toward meeting the requirement has been slow, presaging a rush on repair stations as 2020 nears.
As of March 1, according to the FAA, 45,282—about 28%—of all U.S. aircraft had been fitted with compliant ADS-B Out avionics of the roughly 160,000 the agency estimates will need to be equipped across the general aviation, military and air carrier segments. U.S. airlines had equipped 1,852 of roughly 7,000 airliners. Delta Air Lines led carriers with 322 equipped aircraft, followed by American Airlines with 286, United Airlines with 280 and UPS with 239.
Excluding unmanned aircraft systems, the Defense Department has around 13,000 aircraft. According to Aviation Week Intelligence Network fleet data, the Air Force operates 5,017; the Navy, 2,636; and the Marine Corps, 1,342. Separately, the Army reports operating 3,950 helicopters and airplanes. Information on overall military progress toward equipping for ADS-B Out is not readily available.
In a January report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the Pentagon was lagging in commitments it had made in a December 2007 memorandum to coordinate with the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization program. Of eight tasks associated with implementing ADS-B Out, the surveillance pillar of NextGen, the Defense Department had completed just two—it established an Air Force-led joint program office to coordinate military activities related to NextGen; and it appointed an Air Force officer as the Pentagon’s representative to the FAA’s interagency planning office.
“One of our findings was that, although initial discussions had started back in 2007, and the deputy secretary for the Air Force had been appointed as part of the NextGen planning organization along with FAA and NASA and others, nothing much had happened since 2007 with regard to that integration,” Gerald Dillingham, the GAO’s director of civil aviation issues, told a Royal Aeronautical Society gathering in Washington in February.
“Things are happening now,” Dillingham added. “Part of [the timing] is because it was seen to be a long time before ADS-B was going to be required of the airlines. The military was not very proactive with being part of the long-term planning.”
The FAA in a statement said that since it started developing the ADS-B Out rule, it “always envisioned” it would have to strike an agreement with the Pentagon on noncompliant military aircraft. The agency was working with the Defense Department “to identify alternatives, consider opportunities to reduce equipage costs, align multiple avionics updates, identify innovative solutions to reduce equipage costs, and collaborate on the future surveillance infrastructure.”
For its part, the Army says it is aiming for fleet-wide installation of the necessary avionics, but it will request exemptions for an unspecified number of aircraft that will not be in compliance with the 2020 mandate. The service said it operates 3,700 helicopters and 250 fixed-wing aircraft.
Army aircraft that do not comply with the ADS-B Out rule will be designated for retirement, near-term divestment, scheduled post-2020 recapitalization or will await development of an integrated ADS-B Out solution, the service says.
“It is the Army’s aim to address all current and emerging national and international airspace equipage mandates, such as ADS-B Out, to ensure the uninterrupted access to airspace necessary to train and support forces,” the service says. “ADS-B equipage is ongoing and will continue until all required aviation fleets are equipped.”
In fiscal 2019 budget documents, the Army says its aircraft risk being excluded from controlled airspace in the U.S. unless they are equipped for ADS-B Out, as well as from European airspace unless they have ADS-B Out, Mode S transponders and VHF radios capable of 8.33 kHz channel spacing.
The European Commission requires 8.33 kHz radios, which divide radio spectrum into narrower bandwidths, to alleviate congestion in the VHF band. State-owned aircraft that do not have such radios must be retrofitted by year-end.
“Army aircraft will not be allowed to transit through or operate in European airspace affected by these mandates unless the necessary Mode S, 8.33 kHz and ADS-B Out upgrades are made,” the service states. “Army aircraft will also be excluded from flying in FAA-controlled airspace without the ADS-B Out upgrades.”
Under the Global Airspace Traffic Management heading, the Army has allocated $18 million in fiscal 2019 procurement funding to support FAA-mandated communications, navigation and surveillance modifications by the end of 2019. c