WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA needs to take speedier action, as well as assure pilots and aircraft owners that expenditures for equipment will not significantly change for general aviation to move ahead to prepare for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), members of Congress were told in a hearing held Wednesday by the House Committee on Small Business.
Witnesses told committee members that general aviation aircraft owners are reluctant to equip their planes because of uncertainty surrounding the FAA’s ability to keep to a schedule, confusion over proposed regulations, and possible price changes on equipment.
Only a few thousand of more than 120,000 GA aircraft are currently equipped to meet the Jan. 1, 2020, mandate for ADS-B Out equipment, witnesses told the committee.
Witnesses urged government officials to quickly implement a loan program to help buy necessary equipment to comply with the NextGen 2020 mandate.
Speaking for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Bob Hepp said the benefits of equipping for NextGen are unclear to pilots and aircraft owners. An AOPA member and owner of Aviation Adventures, which has operations at three northern Virginia airports, Hepp reported that to equip his company’s 39 aircraft would cost about $312,000. He added that the uncertainty of FAA’s moves makes GA owners reluctant to invest in new equipment.
Cost of the equipment is not the total expense aircraft owners have, added Professor Kenneth Button, who is the director of the Center for Transportation, Policy, Operations and Logistics at George Mason University. There is also the major expense to have the equipment installed. The longer aircraft owners wait to equip, the more expensive it will become for installation and the longer the delay, he noted.
The FAA needs to streamline its certification and field approvals, Paula Derks, president of the Aircraft Electronics Association, said. She also urged the FAA to improve its communications to pilots and aircraft owners, informing them of NextGen’s benefits.
The FAA also should make sure that, in those communications, all regional facilities have the same information and hold the same positions on requirements, she said.
Tim Taylor, speaking for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, urged the committee to steadfastly maintain the long-standing NextGen deployment schedule, saying the mandate is necessary and achievable.
Taylor is president and CEO of FreeFlight Systems, one of the first companies to release NextGen avionics on the market.
He told the committee there are 120,000 to 140,000 general aviation aircraft operating in the United States that are required to meet the 2020 mandate. He noted that avionics manufacturers have the capability to help all operators meet this deadline. Taylor also encouraged the FAA to show strong leadership in this area and aggressively consider other incentives to encourage owners to equip.
“Government and industry have worked in harmony to ensure that equipment is available at the right price and at the right time to provide immediate and long-term benefits to those who equip today,” Taylor told the committee, which is chaired by Rep. Sam Graves, a long-time pilot and aircraft owner who is a passionate advocate for general aviation.
In opening the hearing, Graves noted that general aviation carries 166 million passengers to 5,000 public airports in the United States, many of which have no scheduled commercial service. General aviation, he added, employs about 1.2 million people and contributes approximately $150 billion to the overall GDP.