While ADS-B is being touted as the cornerstone of the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System, the FAA’s plans to deploy the new technology nationwide face “significant risks and challenges,” according to a recently released report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Asked by Congress to examine the FAA’s plans for ADS-B, the IG found that one of the biggest risks to successful implementation is the reluctance of aircraft owners to install new avionics. According to the report, it will cost GA aircraft owners between $7,644 and $10,920 for ADS-B Out equipment and another $10,444 to $29,770 for ADS-B In equipment. ADS-B out sends signals alerting other aircraft and air traffic controllers of an aircraft’s position. To get all the benefits of the new technology, ADS-B In equipment, which displays critical flight and weather information, is necessary. While the FAA has mandated ADS-B Out equipment in all aircraft flying in the busiest airspace by 2020, requirements for ADS-B In aren’t expected to be released for at least two more years.
Another possible problem is frequency congestion, which is why the FAA is proposing that airlines and other commercial traffic be on one frequency — 1090 megahertz (MHz) — while GA traffic will be on another: 978 MHz, which has more available bandwidth and can provide graphic weather information and other data that airliners already receive from company dispatchers.
But solving the potential congestion problem brings up another problem: The need to rebroadcast information over both frequencies. It is important to ensure that different aircraft (equipped with different broadcast links) can “see” each other, the report states, noting that this critical service, known as ADS-R (for rebroadcast) increases the costs of the program. “One FAA official stated that it may be cost prohibitive to implement ADS-R nationwide,” the report adds.
Another concern is ownership and oversight of the new technology. ITT Corp., which has received a $1.8 billion contract to build the ground stations and provide the broadcast services, will own the equipment, not the FAA. “It will be difficult for the agency to build and sustain sufficient in-house knowledge of how the system actually works and how problems are solved since it will neither own the hardware, ground stations, and related software nor be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ground system,” the report said. “We are concerned that FAA could find itself in the unenviable position of knowing very little about a system that is expected to be the foundation of NextGen.”