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Storm looming over mandatory upgrade

Posted 13 February 2019 · Add Comment

A perfect storm of mandatory upgrades and compliance is building on the business jet horizon – and a surprising number of owners and operators remain unaware or unconcerned by its implications.

When the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) Out mandate comes into force in 2020 in Europe, the US, the UAE, and other countries, aircraft that fly higher than 2,500ft must be able to transmit positioning information in compliance with ADS-B Out regulations.

MRO bases in the Middle East are already warning of an impossible clash of deadlines, workshop time and availability of parts a year from now.

Aircraft that do not comply with the mandate could be effectively grounded.

With ADS-B Out, the aircraft continuously transmits its position regardless of whether it is being interrogated by ground radar or the traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) of other aircraft. 

ADS-B Out is described as generally more accurate than current radar systems, which it is expected to replace. The overarching ambition of the world aviation community is to use it to safely control increasingly congested airspace worldwide. 

Observers note that many owners have been slow to react to the mandates, perhaps hoping for a deadline extension or reductions in the price of equipment, which can rise well beyond $100,000.

GAMA Aviation’s Oliver Hewson said the deadline has already been extended from 2017 to 2020, making further extensions “extremely unlikely”. 

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been clear in its policy that any aircraft entering controlled airspace after the deadline must be compliant,” he added.

ExecuJet’s Nick Weber said owners – mostly through their management companies – are starting to “wake up” to the implications of missing the deadline for compliance. The significant cost of upgrades has led many to delay the work, although his company has also modified about six aircraft already in its Dubai workshop.    

The newer aircraft are more likely to have complied already, he said. 

“It’s worrying for OEMs, as well as MROs, that everybody will wait until the 11th hour, when there will be issues of supply, increased downtime and available slots at service centres,” said Weber. “Extended downtime has an impact on operations, from the owners’ perspective, especially if the aircraft is out on charter. It also has a knock-on effect in service centres for aircraft coming in for scheduled maintenance.

“We’re trying to encourage operators and owners to book the work now.”

Upgrades usually ground an aircraft from one to three weeks, depending on the time it takes to remove the relevant components, send them to the OEM for modification, and reinstall and test them on their return. Weber expects downtime will increase as pressure builds on OEMs with the anticipated volume of modification work.

Stephen Alcock, Honeywell Aerospace’s senior director for business and general aviation in Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, said planning ahead was key.

“Any delay in securing ADS-B compliance increases the risk that products won’t be available or that service centres won’t have the capacity to meet aircraft requirements ahead of the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) deadlines,” said Alcock. “In the long term, this will hamper aircraft access to more direct routes and stop aircraft owners from achieving fuel savings.” 

As one of the major cockpit technology suppliers, Honeywell offers numerous upgrade options and incentives. “For example,” said Alcock, “Lear 40/45 operators, who buy at least two DU-875/885 LCD displays to replace their current CRT displays, can use our supplemental type certificate for ADS-B Out without charge.”

Selling an aircraft to escape the cost of updating its avionics carries its own liabilities. Aviation sales brokers note that aircraft without the advanced avionics will be artificially depreciated when they come into the market, undermining negotiations on price. The longer they stay on the ground, the more difficult it will be to find a buyer – and the maintenance costs will not disappear.

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