Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making ADS-B Work

The technology looks promising, but there are still unanswered questions about its implementation

ADSWhen it comes to owners being told they must install expensive new equipment in their planes, it’s always better to offer them more carrot and less stick as an incentive. For now, the FAA’s proposed mandate on Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is looking like too much stick and too little carrot.
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Now, with the FAA’s commitment to ADS-B, other vendors will soon compete with Garmin by providing both transceivers and cockpit display units. A key vendor already hard at work on its own ADS-B system is Sandia Aerospace, part of the consortium assembled by ITT. Sandia President Dennis Schmidt says, “Sandia Aerospace will introduce an ADS-B system in mid-2009 with an attractive price point at or below $3,500. Our introduction timing corresponds with ITT’s network availability across most of the United States, while our price point and feature set address the main concerns voiced in the GA community. Our system will interface with a wide variety of display units, and we’re working with display manufacturers now to ensure interface compatibility.”

Sam Seery, Garmin’s marketing manager says, “The real benefit comes with ADS-B In- and Out-capable avionics. The pilot’s situational awareness is dramatically increased with a display of proximate traffic in the air and on the ground and graphical weather. ADS-B In and Out avionics will provide reduced separation standards that improve efficiency in busy airspace, saving time and fuel. Several advanced applications are being discussed and are possible only for operators who equip their aircraft with ADS-B In and Out avionics.”

For owners weighing their choices, the carrot in the equation is that prices should come down, and they’ll have the option of flying with greater weather and traffic information than ever before. Plus, they still have a lot of time to wait and see what becomes available before being forced into a decision.

The FAA offers more info on ADS-B at, and Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit group that does research on ADS-B for the FAA, offers more at

Three Years Of Real-World ADS-B Flying

For the past three years, several hundred pilots across the United States have experienced what it’s like to fly with ADS-B, and I’ve been one of them. My 1949 Ryan Navion was one of the first (if not the first) privately owned aircraft in the Lower 48 to have the new technology. I agreed to participate in a three-year project created by the North Carolina Division of Aviation to demonstrate that the system that had worked so well in Alaska’s Capstone Project held the same promise everywhere. With the other fortunate owners in the project, I committed to flying demo rides on a regular basis and reporting the results of how I used the weather and traffic services in my day-to-day flying.

After almost three years of flying with ADS-B, my early impressions are still the same: I’m now spoiled and wouldn’t want to fly without it or a comparable service in my airplane. And since there’s no other single-source, nonsubscription service that compares, I wouldn’t want to fly without ADS-B.

To help me avoid the many planes that are never identified as traffic by ATC, I’ve come to rely upon the TIS-B that overlays a display of all traffic squawking a Mode C code onto my moving map. This is especially critical in high-density areas, such as the busy corridors through the Washington-Philadelphia-NYC airspace and along the coast of Florida. But it has also been surprisingly useful in so-called low-activity areas around uncontrolled airports, including my home field with its near-constant mix of student training, private pilots and corporate traffic.

ADS-B’s FIS-B has allowed me to see nearby and distant NEXRAD images that have proven invaluable in making in-flight decisions. Coupled with my ability to get detailed METAR and TAF information for en route, destination and surrounding airports, I no longer have to depend on outdated preflight information or interpret an audio-only report from Flight Services. The result? In demanding weather conditions, I can “see” what’s ahead, and instead of landing to get an update on an FBO weather computer, now I complete more flights with greater awareness and confidence and less stress.

Are there things I don’t like about ADS-B? Yes, I still have a problem with having to use a split screen to display the relatively crude FIS-B graphic weather page along with my normal moving map with its excellent terrain, airspace and navigation information. But from what I understand, with newer display units with more processing power than my five-year-old Garmin MX20, that’s a problem that will disappear. The limited coverage area has also been a problem, but that will no longer be a concern as ITT quickly begins to expand the network outward from the East Coast area, leading to nationwide coverage by the end of 2012.


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