Questions surround NextGen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA reported earlier this month that it had completed nationwide equipment installation for the NextGen aircraft tracking system.

The announcement — like others in the past and probably those in the future — raises more questions than it provides answers, particularly for general aviation.

The nationwide installation of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) network supports a satellite-based surveillance system that tracks aircraft with the help of GPS. This gives what the FAA says is a more accurate aircraft location than the current radar system.

Completing this installation is but one step in a long march.

Of the 230 air traffic facilities across the nation, 100 are currently using the system. All facilities are expected to be operational by 2019. At that time, all aircraft operating in controlled airspace will be required to be equipped with ADS-B to broadcast their locations by Jan. 1, 2020.

And therein lie the questions. As a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association says, “the devil is in the details.”

Several reports show the program is already behind schedule and over budget. Will the government make up for lost time while at the same time reduce spending?

Pilots have been reluctant to invest in equipment for their aircraft for several reasons. First, there is no certainty that equipment purchased now will be compatible with the system when it is completed. Second, the cost of the equipment is an uncertainty. The equipment now costs between $5,000 and $10,000 per aircraft. Third, will technology improve so the cost might be reduced? Or will a greater volume of sales help bring the cost down for individual aircraft owners? Fourth, will there be battery-operated equipment so aircraft with no electrical system may operate in controlled airspace?

According to the FAA, one advantage to NextGen is it will permit more direct flights from point-to-point, reducing travel time. This leads to more questions: Does this mean more airspace will be controlled, reducing where and how non-equipped aircraft may operate? If not, will there be less airspace where these aircraft may operate in day VFR conditions, or will it mean aircraft must be so-equipped in order to operate in any airspace?

Another question is what happens in the event of a system failure? Anyone who owns or works on a computer knows they have a tendency to malfunction. What is the FAA’s back-up plan when the system inevitably fails?

What’s more, these are just some of the questions needing answers.

Officials from general aviation’s alphabet groups are talking with FAA officials about these concerns — and others.

The organizations are working together, but have their differences. That’s because each group is out to protect its own members’ interests. For example, some business aviation can accept operations closer to that of the airlines. Other GA groups represent pilots who fly for recreation and fear losing access to the skies. Meanwhile, the airlines want more airspace to call their own.

As the EAA’s Dick Knapinski says, “let’s take the time to do it right and not have to come back and do it over. Our main concern is to see that everybody flies.”


  1. jim denike says

    wonder what Plan B will be if ever we get a meteor shower ot solar storm to take out our GPS satellites? Keep your E6B’s handy.

  2. Claudio Friederich says

    They announced ADS-B across the country. What they neglected to mention was that in Hawaii (yes, Hawaii is part of the country, a state no less) has NO ADS-B support, and although we have asked repeatedly when we will get it, we have never gotten an answer. What’s more, Hawaii is the only state where WAAS does not exist – period. If they want us to even think about equipping, they must be equipped themselves.

  3. Andrew Briseno says

    The Federal Government requirement for the equipment is draconian big brother on steroids on what has historically been an experience in freedom; flight by pilots of small airplanes. Why the ridiculous level of scrutiny? Why do we have to surrender or historic anonymity because some Jack-a*s Washington D.C. Politician wants to keep each of us under their microscope? Was not the American experiment in Liberty supposed to make the Government the servant of the citizen, and not vice versa? This is yet another overreaching intrusion into our lives; much like the relatively recent requirement that was foisted on we SLAVES OF THE PARASITES IN WASHINGTON, that we register our flying machines annually. Why? Isn’t the Government intrusive enough already? This requirement is expensive, absurd and unnecessary. I guess the Federal Government will next claim that they need to keep the public safe from terrorism? Are the “Terrorists” that the Washington D. C. Parasites want to protect us from the very same Al Quaeda terrorists that Washington is paying in Syria to murder Syrian Christians? Are they the same terrorists that the Obama Administration murdered (by proxy) the American Ambassador in Benghazi (and three other Americans) just so that the transfer by the C.I.A. To Al Quaeda of shoulder fired surface to air stinger missiles could be “hidden” from the American public? Are the terrorists that Washington is protecting us the same terrorists that are the pretextual reason why Americans who travel by airliner have to be groped, sexually assaulted and otherwise irradiated lest someone carry an underwear bomb onto an airliner, the way that moslem underwear bomber did who was escorted through a European Nation’s Airport Security by an American Government functionary at Christmas those many years back? Come on now. This is another exercise is enslavement and meddling intrusive warrant less tracking of Americans by the current fascist regime in Washington. Truly an Orwellian Administration if there ever has been one.

  4. John R says

    As someone who fly’s for hire and needs enroute weather and has for years paid $50+ per month for XM WX, I’m glad to see the ADS-B system in place and now get the WX with no monthly charge. I use portable avionics with digital charts. Initially, I saw a few aircraft depicted as traffic but it was obviously not all of the traffic. I had the Mode S transponder converted to the ES (Extended Squitter) mode which made it comply with the year 2020 requirement. I now see double or triple the aircraft traffic around me. The best traffic avoidance is still eyes outside the aircraft but many times the ADS-B system warns me of aircraft before radar advises me of the traffic.

    I don’t like the FAA requiring me to spend money on equipment and it will be difficult when it comes to my own personal aircraft. I hope some better (cheaper) options appear soon.

    All in all, I see it as a net plus!!

  5. Rich says

    As someone inside a mode c veil I know I’ll need to comply to fly…what I’m waiting for is a single box solution that has internal gps and satisfies mode c while doing the ads-b out compliance …I don’t want to spend big $$ on labor/displays …even better if it alleviated the 121.5/406 issue by dispensing with that requirement completely

  6. Paul Brown says

    If the FAA wants this equipment in all aircraft, that administration should supply install and maintain it. Their should be no cost to small twins and all single engine naturally aspirated engines.

  7. Norman Davis says

    So, what happens to those of us who fly aircraft without electrical systems? Will IO b e mandated to dispose of my plane to satisfy some fat head at FAA? I’m certainly not going to be coerced into spending thousands of my hard won dollars so that the few avionics manufactures can gloat after ripping me off.

  8. David Gaeddert says

    Experience in industry teaches me–when doing the biggest and best, don’t worry about a *little* late and over budget. When a project is being whipsawed and cut on budget, we should be concerned. Especially on a project that depends so much on software, the programmers we really need may not put up with a lot of abuse. If possible, DC should get the message “Put in the money and determination to get it done, or just cancel it.”

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