will mandatory avionics spark other upgrades on the retrofit market?

May 27, 2019

While the 2020 deadline for ADS-B installation is getting closer and closer, a good number of owners are also deciding to do other avionics upgrades to their aircraft while the panel is disassembled. Steve Nichols discusses how this mandate affects the sector

Unless you have been asleep you should know about the upcoming ADS-B mandates. The FAA has mandated that aircraft operating in airspace that now require a Mode C transponder must be equipped with ADS-B Out by January 1 2020, while the European mandate comes into effect on June 6 2020. With the deadline being some months away, the worry is that aircraft operators will delay the upgrade until it is too late.


There are operators who are pushing ahead with ADS-B Out installs. But are supplier finding that customers are equipping their aircraft with far more than ADS-B? We asked the industry to find out.


Kevin Kliethermes, director of sales for Flying Colours, said: “Every project is a little bit different. But some customers are undertaking their ADS-B Out updates as part of a maintenance package, which might include refurbishment activities at the same time. We see just as many people who are looking at it from a budget perspective are going to take advantage of the ADS-B mandate this year and put off other work until 2020. If they don’t have a maintenance package a lot of times they will just put off major avionics upgrades until later,” he said.


Kliethermes said he would put the figure at about 50/50. That is, 50% of customers are choosing to do other maintenance work as well as the ADS-B work.


He added that about 70% of Flying Colours customers have maintenance packages. “As far as the aircraft downtime goes, they would rather put the aircraft down and do a lot of work at worse rather than multiple times,” Kliethermes said. “But it is depending upon where they are in the maintenance cycle. It is fairly rare that we see customer wanting only ADS-B out, although it does happen.”


One problem is the amount of time now available. “A lot of companies have left it too long and there is a push now for sure,” he said. “It’s a conversation we have had with every single customer before, but there is now more of a sense of urgency, with only eight months to go.


“There will always be customers who will leave it until later in the year, which is when their maintenance packages is due. We are talking to them right now and ensuring that we have a slot by for them.”


So how far out is Flying Colours booking slots? “In some cases it can be six months out. For example, a Global Challenger customer might not be due a maintenance package check until later in the year. We are booking them in and making sure that we get the ADS-B equipment on order for them, and making a deposit to hold that slot,” he said.


So how much notice do they need to order in the equipment? “We haven’t run into any major shortages. If someone called and said could we do an ADS-B out installation next week, we probably could accommodate them, but normally it is more like two to three months notice,” he said. “Even if the equipment is not new, but being sent back for upgrade, the shops need that amount of time to slot it in.”


Bill Stone, senior business development manager at Garmin, said: “Reality has set in. What we see in the broad market, from small piston-engined aircraft to full-blown business jets, is that people don’t like to take their aircraft out of service for extended purposes.


“Every time you take an aircraft out of commission it costs money, so it kind of makes sense to batch some of these things. In other words, if you are going to take an aircraft out of service you had better spend some more money on it at the same time,” Stone said.


Garmin said there were a lot of new products on the market – and a lot more coming. “We see very few ADS-B upgrades only right now. They are being joined by other upgrades, such as low-cost autopilots, upgrades to glass displays and Electronic Flight Instrument Systems (EFIS), and Wide Area Augmentation Systems (WAAS),” Stone said.


Garmin recently announced a standalone and certified WAAS/SBAS GPS. The GPS 3000 meets DO-160 and DO-178B standards and is also designed to interface with select Flight Management Systems (FMS) to support GPS guidance throughout terminal, en-route and approach navigation


Aircraft that are eligible to use the GPS 3000 as an ADS-B position source include the Embraer E135/E145 and Legacy 600/650.


It also announced the availability and certification of its G1000 NXi upgrade for the Citation Mustang, which includes a robust set of features, such as SurfaceWatch, visual approaches, geographical map overlay within the HSI and more.


“The ADS-B updates have been in planning for almost a decade now and a lot of technology has caught up in the meantime.”


Stone also said that there are concerns about backlogs. “There was one forum post that said: ‘What is the current backlog on avionics shops?’ Some of them are getting frustrated. Most avionics shops currently have backlogs that go back six to nine months. I think this is because there are bigger jobs coming through,” he said.


“We don’t see any other mandates coming along. There are other ADS-B mandates around the world and there is talk of a CVR mandates too, but I don’t think we will see any wide-ranging mandates like ADS-B.”


Robert Clare, director of sales, Universal Avionics, had a similar story to tell. “We have been inundated with sales enquiries,” he said. “The mandates have spurred other upgrades for a couple of reasons.


“At Universal, the retrofit market has always been our forte and we try to capitalize on those opportunities. We don’t have a radio product for ADS-B, but we do have a FMS that contributes to that and we have made many sales on the back of it. On top of that a lot times we are finding that once operators get the go-ahead for the ADS-B mandate we often get to bundle other equipment in at a discount. They say what about this CPDLC or FANS stuff and we make a sale,” he noted.


“So definitely I think mandates can kind of kick people to look at what else they can do. On the other hand, there are operators who don’t really know what they are going to do with their aircraft and who will do whatever they can to keep it in the air,” Clare said and added that timing is starting to get tight.


UA is now offering the company’s authorized dealers and integrators two new Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) packages, available at no charge in many cases. The first is for ADS-B Out Data Pairing and the second supports installation of the InSight Display System.


The ADS-B Out Data Pairing Package supports installation by field approval for ADS-B Out with UA’s satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) – FMS and either Honeywell or Rockwell Collins transponders.


Two MDL data packages are available to support installation of the InSight Display System STC for the Cessna Citation VII 650 model. The -1 MDL data package covers the full installation of the InSight display system, engine interface unit (EIU), TAWS class A, and UNS-1Fw SBAS-FMS with ADS-B Out function. The -2 MDL data package adds the optional eChart and Advanced Performance Databases.


“We are dedicated to providing unparalleled support to our authorized dealer/integrator network,” said Clare. “This is yet another tool to assist our dealers and integrators in streamlining installations and reducing installation costs. We have more than 250 dealers worldwide and our regional sales managers are saying they are booked up. The larger tier facilities are booked up and even the next tier down, they are getting booked up too, “he said.


“In my opinion I think this is going to go well into 2020 as there is no way that everything will get down by the end of the year. A lot of shops are scheduled out until beyond the first of the year. It has been a challenge to keep up with supply and demand, but that is good for us and good for the aviation industry,” Clare concluded.


It was a similar story from Honeywell Aerospace. Ron Smith, senior technical sales manager at Honeywell Aerospace, said that while they found their high-end customers were pretty well sorted, it was a mixed story at the mid and bottom end. “I don’t think that all the aircraft that need to be compliant will be sorted in time,” he said.


“What we find is that the older aircraft need new GPS systems installed as well. Everyone focused in on the transponder part of the ADS-B upgrade, but with some aircraft up to 30 years old plus, many of them have GPS units that are not compliant.


“Older GPS systems need upgrading to being WAAS-capable. From a performance navigation perspective they also need Required Navigation Performance (RNP) and LPV approach capability. “So once we get people focused on ADS-B, we also find they need to upgrade their FMS as well,” he said.


Smith said that he was certain that a lot of aircraft will not be ADS-B compliant post January 2020. “Most of the installers I speak to are fully booked out,” Smith said.




What is ADS-B?


ADS-B is “automatic” because it requires neither pilot nor other inputs. It is “dependent” because it depends on data from the aircraft’s navigation system.

Pioneered originally in the USA, an ADS-B-equipped aircraft finds its own position using a global navigation satellite system (GNSS), typically GPS, and periodically broadcasts this position and other information to ground stations and other aircraft equipped with ADS-B.

ADS-B-equipped aircraft broadcast their precise position in space via a digital datalink (the global interoperable frequency is 1090MHz) along with other data, including groundspeed, altitude, and whether the aircraft is climbing, or descending. This broadcast capability is sometimes known as a “squitter”.

ADS-B receivers that are integrated into the air traffic control system or installed aboard other aircraft provide users with an accurate depiction of real-time aviation traffic, both in the air and on the ground – although this does require additional equipment to be installed on the aircraft.

Unlike conventional radar, ADS-B works at low altitudes and on the ground so that it can be used to monitor traffic on the taxiways and runways of an airport. It’s also effective in remote areas or in mountainous terrain where there is no radar coverage, or where coverage is limited.

One of the greatest benefits of ADS-B is its ability to provide the same real-time information to both pilots in aircraft cockpits and ground controllers, so that, for the first time, ADS-B equipped aircraft can both “see” the same data, as long as all aircraft in the vicinity are similarly equipped.

To ensure that the system is as compatible as possible with both older and newer technologies ADS-B can be used over several different data link technologies, including Mode-S and 1090MHz data link (in Europe).

The great thing about ADS-B is its automatic nature – the pilot concentrates on flying the aircraft and the system merrily transmits his position without any mechanical intervention.

It also benefits from its relative low cost when compared to other surveillance systems, such as radar, its high accuracy, and the fact that it can also support other airborne surveillance applications, which will enable many future updates.

The safety benefits of ADS-B are huge and include improved visual acquisition, especially for general aviation under visual flight rules (VFR) and reduced runway incursions.

While ADS-B therefore offers air traffic controllers useful information about aircraft in their area, some ATC providers were not convinced that it is currently suitable for use in high traffic volume areas, such as in UK and Northern European airspace.

In the US, ADS-B equipment can also support Traffic Information Services -Broadcast (TIS-B), whereby details of all traffic known to an ATC system can be transmitted back to suitably-equipped aircraft.

There are two commonly recognized types of Automatic Dependent Surveillance for aircraft applications.

ADS-B Out transmits GPS-based position and other aircraft or vehicle information and implementation is now mandated in 2020 (more of that later). ADS-B In allows transmitted signals to be received by other aircraft as well as ground stations, but this is not part of the 2020 mandate.

There is no mandate for ADS-B “In.” However, this optional “In” capability — which receives the tracking data for display in the cockpit — should be a popular upgrade, since it can clearly enhance situational awareness by giving pilots a view of the same basic traffic data that ground controllers are monitoring on their scopes.

Additional in the US FAA inducements for adding ADS-B “In” include free datalink weather and various other flight information services.

But while ADS-B is quite well established in the USA, over here in Europe, pilots might be forgiven for being confused.

The European Commission (EC) issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) announcing its intent to mandate carriage of ADS-B transponders. This was to apply to all aircraft, both European and non-European, but those weighing less than 12,500 pounds and with cruise speeds below 250 knots was to be exempt.

But the EC then delayed the mandate for ADS-B out in its airspace, with the new dates being June 8, 2016, for new aircraft and June 7, 2020, for retrofit.

This applies to aircraft with a civilian registration operating IFR/GAT in Europe and with a maximum certified take-off mass exceeding 5,700 kg or having a maximum cruising true airspeed capability greater than 250 knots.

These are required to carry and operate Mode S Level 2s transponder(s) with Mode S Elementary Surveillance (ELS), Enhanced Surveillance (EHS) (for fixed wing aircraft) and ADS-B 1090MHZ Extended Squitter (ES) capabilities.

The revised date for retrofits is more closely aligned with the US ADS-B out mandate that requires the equipment to be operational in aircraft that fly where transponders are currently required after midnight on December 31, 2019.