ADS-B Installation: Here’s What Happened to Me

Kent S. Jackson | February 12, 2019

First the Good News

The FAA is offering $500 rebates with the purchase avionics that have received an ADS-B Technical Standard Order authorization and meet ADS-B Out rule requirements. The rebate, which applies to owners of fixed-wing, single-engine piston aircraft, will run until October 11, 2019 or until the funds run out, whichever comes first. The FAA still about 8,000 rebates available. The deadline for ADS-B Out equipment compliance is Jan. 1, 2020. The deadline for exemption applications has passed. 

Here’s what Happened to Me

For those of us who installed ADS-B early, the FAA has already been calling about compliance issues. The first call that I received from the FAA about my ADS-B came several months and nearly 100 flight hours after I thought that I was done. A weary FAA inspector from FAA HQ called to inform me that I, and several other aircraft, were showing up as a flight of two on the FAA’s ADS-B equipment. I called Garmin, reached an equally weary tech who had been hammered with such calls, and I got the instructions for the required fix.

More months and more flight hours later, I got another call from the FAA.  I had a “call sign mismatch.” While I was filing flight plans and talking to ATC under a call sign, my ADS-B was transmitting my N-number, not the call sign. No controller seemed to know, but the poor inspector in charge of ADS-B seemed concerned that the mismatch might break the government computers. It took a software update before I could solve the problem, but I did so promptly, because the inspector had made a cryptic remark that there would be no enforcement action if I fixed the problem promptly. I was severely tempted to ask him about what ADS-B enforcement would look like before 2020, but I chose discretion instead.

Do You Need to Install ADS-B Out?

Except for aircraft that lack electrical systems (balloons, gliders and a few taildraggers), if you fly in any airspace that requires the use of a transponder today, you will also need ADS-B Out installed and working by Jan. 1, 2020. 

But what if you miss the deadline and keep flying?  The FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program (FAA Order 2150.3C) gives three categories for operation of aircraft without required equipment: “technical noncompliance,” “potential effect on safety,” and “likely effect on safety.”

In a 2015 case involving an aircraft equipped for flight in RVSM airspace, but without an appropriate Letter of Authorization (“LOA”) for the operator, the Pilot in Command received a 60-days suspension. The NTSB also ruled that although the pilot had filed a timely form under the Aviation Safety Reporting System (aka “NASA Form”), the pilot had deliberately flown without the required LOA, and therefore he wasn’t entitled to any relief from the suspension.

In time, you can expect that the FAA will categorize ADS-B cases in the “potential effect on safety,” and “likely effect on safety” categories when a pilot knowingly flies without the equipment. This will mean long suspensions and/or high civil penalties. The FAA has pointed out in training materials that there are areas where controllers don’t have radar coverage, but they will have ADS-B coverage.  It would be easy for the FAA to make the case for “likely effect on safety” if ADS-B is the sole source of traffic information in a given area.

However, in time, you can also expect to see cases in the “technical noncompliance” category.  “Call sign mismatch” cases might become a serious headache for airlines and other operators whose crews will need to learn to enter a transponder squawk code and a call sign into their avionics for every flight. 

Want to know if your installed ADS-B really works? The FAA has a website where you can check on a specific flight:

The FAA promises a report within 30 minutes, my test returned a report in about 3 minutes. You will then need the User Guide: Anything highlighted in red on the report means a return trip to the avionics shop.

A common problem with ADS-B installations has been labeled “Air on Ground” for when the unit reports the aircraft airborne while still on the ground, due to a defective squat switch or airspeed setting. Will the FAA eventually threaten enforcement against operators for “technical noncompliance” if a properly installed unit isn’t correctly functioning on every required parameter? Most likely. Such has been the case with Flight Data Recorders for air carriers.

So remember: January 1, 2020 isn’t just the deadline to have ADS-B Out installed in your aircraft. It is the deadline to have ADS-B Out working in your aircraft.

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Business & Commercial Aviation as a Point of Law article.