by James Williams, FAA Safety Briefing
Do you hear that? It is the rhythmic tick-tock of time marching ever forward. Time is the one thing we are helpless to stop. By now, you’ve no doubt realized the theme of this issue of FAA Safety Briefing: being prepared for the rapidly approaching ADS-B mandate that will take effect on January 1, 2020. We can all debate the merits of the mandate, but we cannot ignore the reality. To paraphrase the George R.R. Martin novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, “January 2020 is coming.”
We explain the functionality and requirements of ADS-B elsewhere in this issue, so this article will look at three specific areas regarding ADS-B installation. First, we will explore some of the things you should know when selecting a shop to do the installation work. Second, we will examine some common problems that can occur during that process. Finally, we will offer some advice as to what aircraft owners should expect before accepting an installation.
What Difference Does the Shop Make?
As it turns out, quite a bit. During the FAA’s ADS-B panel discussion at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisc., I heard several scary stories of shops needing multiple tries to get an ADS-B install right, which lead to many frustrated owners and extensive aircraft downtime. Anecdotes don’t make a trend, but it was still troubling. Could it really be that hard? The answer is both yes and no. “With these newer avionics, it’s as much about computer programming as it is about installing radios,” explains Dawayne Wilcox, the Avionics Manager for Capital Aviation in Manassas, Va. I visited Capital Aviation as they finished up an ADS-B In and Out installation on a Cessna 172. Wilcox recommended using a shop that is familiar with this type of installation, as there are many small details that can render an installation non-compliant (more on that later). Wilcox walked me through the test process Capital uses to ensure that an installation will be compliant. Specifically, this shop utilizes ground testing equipment that can receive and display the signal transmitted by the ADS-B unit. This test allows technicians to verify that all parameters are correct before the test flight.
The three most common installation errors are transmission of the wrong ICAO code, an incorrect flight identification, and Dual-Out boxes using different ICAO codes.
Not all shops have ADS-B testing equipment, nor is it a requirement. It is a helpful tool that can save time and aggravation, but a shop can certainly do an installation successfully without it. The main thing is to be sure the shop you select has an established process to test the installation. It could be as simple as a test flight and successful performance report. You also want to be sure the shop you select has experience working with modern avionics and the programing that comes with them, along with a proven track record when it comes to successful ADS-B installs. Experience with the process and solid procedure go a long way towards avoiding potential pitfalls. In today’s modern social media world, it’s a good idea to check not only with other aircraft owners around you, but to also seek feedback on shops with sites like Google or Yelp.
Another thing to consider is the level of support you or your avionics shop can expect from the manufacturer. Wilcox reported that while some are better than others, most major manufacturers are very responsive in addressing issues related to a particular installation. Still, it’s helpful to check with the manufacturer’s user base to see what kind of support to expect both during and after the installation.