In my line of work, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with a lot of pilots on a regular basis. The conversation typically turns to ADS-B, usually because I push it in that direction. As it turns out, pilots are pretty eager to talk about their airplanes, so it’s usually not difficult to get the conversation started. Once we get past the typical “it won’t happen” comment, I try to take on more of an advisor-type role in helping them select the best solution for their specific flight profile. The following are the questions I ask and the questions you should be able to answer in order to make the best decision about how to equip your aircraft.
What do you Fly?
This is hands down the easiest question I’ll ever ask a pilot, unless they’re some sort of Black Ops pilot that is sworn to secrecy under the penalty of death. The “what do you fly” question gives me an idea about how they fly and what they use the plane for, which in turn will start to narrow down the solutions that would fit their needs best. If it’s an airframe I’ve never heard of before, I make sure to ask if it’s certified or a homebuilt.
DISCLAIMER: If it’s a homebuilt, chances are I’m going to be in for an extremely detailed description of how each bolt went together and how long it took. In most cases, the story about the build takes almost as long as the actual aircraft build itself.
Why is this important? Well, if it’s an uncertified aircraft they might be tempted to explore the lower-cost uncertified options that are available. I advise against this, for a few simple reasons:
- Affordability of certified solutions – There are certified solutions available today at “uncertified prices”. Having that extra level of testing, integrity, and reliability goes a long way in terms of quality and product reliability.
- Long term support – several of the uncertified solutions on the market today are being offered by companies that have no other product lines, which would indicate to me that they are essentially one-hit-wonders in the avionics world. So, while you might be able to save some money now, when that unit needs support after the mandate, who will support it? Will you then be forced to buy from one of the long-established avionics manufacturers? Buying low-cost uncertified solutions may save a few hundred today, but it could cost several thousand more in the long run.
- The Men in Black – ADS-B will be your primary ATC interface once it is installed. If it is not working properly, ATC will know, and you will be asked to fix it. This is a much easier conversation if your equipment comes with credentials.
Where do you fly today and plan to fly tomorrow?
“Ummm, the sky?” While that is technically a correct answer – and anyone who knows me knows I do appreciate good humor – it’s not exactly the hard-hitting detail I’m looking for. What I’m really asking is, “Do you fly above 18,000′ or outside the United States? Places like Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean islands?” This again will help me narrow in on the best solution for them. The “tomorrow” part isn’t as important as the “today” part due to the uncertainty of the future. But, if you have aspirations of flying through the mountains of Canada or the Islands of the Caribbean, then the requirements to do just that are worth considering.
Why is this important? If you are flying in the U.S. only and operating below 18,000′, 978MHz solutions will do everything you need and more for a very affordable price, and you can keep your transponder. If you fly outside of that profile, then a 1090MHz solution is what you need.
What equipment do you have in the plane?
This question usually gets me an extremely detailed list of avionics that, for the most part, are fairly irrelevant to the ADS-B mandate. What I’m really listening for is what transponder they have, and what they have, if anything, for an installed GPS unit. Additionally, what condition these units are in, i.e. are you having issues with your transponder due to age? Does the GPS have WAAS?
The popular misconception in the market place today is that you need to have a panel-mounted WAAS/GPS navigator. That’s just simply not true. All you are required to have is compliant WAAS/GPS position data feeding your ADS-B transmitter (978MHz or 1090MHz). Yes, this data can come from a panel-mount navigator, but it can also come from a much lower-cost option in the form of a remote-mount sensor. Additionally, some solutions have the option to include an internal WAAS/GPS that meets all the requirements of the mandate and cost substantially less than a panel-mounted solution.
What about displays? Great question! iPads and tablets have become great tools in the cockpit for pilot resources. In addition to panel-mounted certified displays, several solutions have WiFi options that will allow seamless integrations with various tablets and applications.
There are a lot of great solutions available today that will meet the mandate requirements and provide you the additional benefits most are looking for. While there’s a chance that there will be an increase in product options in the future, one thing that won’t increase is the amount of time remaining to equip. Every day, we inch closer to the inevitable ADS-B deadline, and shops are filling their appointment books several months out. The clock is running; 4 years and 2 months until January 1, 2020. Start asking your questions, and secure your install slot sooner rather than later. No one ever said, “Why do today what we can put off until tomorrow?”