On the technology front, ADS-B In promised to provide even more help to pilots through traffic and weather information. But could an economic case be made? Walton used the NTSB crash data, along with FAA estimates of flight training hours nationwide, to determine a fatal mid-air risk per flight hour. Over the study period, Walton estimated that eight of the 24 fatal mid-airs could have been prevented by having ADS-B In.
Based on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) methodologies, the cost savings in averting those eight crashes (that would have killed approximately 14.4 instructors and students), boiled down to just under $4 per flight hour. Since each of Liberty’s aircraft fly approximately 600 hours per year, the break-even point for justifying the added cost of ADS-B In would be reached in just under three years per aircraft. The University determined that the investment was sound and allocated money to buy the ADS-B In equipment along with ADS-B Out. His team started adding the feature in spring 2016 and took about a year to install it in all aircraft.
“We could have installed just ADS-B Out for less cost, but we reasoned that the safety benefits of a system that would tell you ‘Traffic! Two o’clock. Two Miles. Same Altitude,’ would more than justify the cost,” said Walton. “If it avoids one mid-air collision, you’ve paid for it, easily,” he said.
The flight school previously had used the Traffic Information Service (TIS) available with its installed avionics, but Walton said the TIS traffic callouts were based on local radar and did not make audio announcements of the traffic’s location, distance, and altitude. He said there were also dead zones in the radar coverage, a shortcoming largely eliminated with ADS-B.
The free weather available on the 978 MHz UAT link also helped with boosting safety for its twin-engine aircraft. Walton said the University was also able to substitute the XM weather subscription it had purchased for its Seminoles with FIS-B, using the savings to help purchase flight envelope protection software to aid in LOC prevention.
Evidence of ADS-B benefits at the flight school is mounting. “We have had various safety reports of traffic conflicts where instructors or students have said, ‘Because we had ADS-B, we were able to see the traffic coming and take evasive action that had we not taken, would have led to a close call.’”
One of Liberty’s flight instructors, Gabrielle Disanza, was quick to appreciate the automatic audio callouts of the position and altitude of nearby traffic when she is busy instructing. Before coming to Lynchburg, Disanza earned her ratings in very basic aircraft flying out of relatively rural airports in New Jersey. “Traffic avoidance was strictly ‘See and Avoid,’” she said. “Down here, where there is training taking place 16 hours a day — a constant coming and going of aircraft — I absolutely couldn’t imagine flying without it.”
All “In” a Day’s Work
Out in Akron, Ohio, a flight department operating a wholly different kind of animal — an airship — took the ADS-B In plunge early on as a strategic move. Michael Dougherty, chief pilot for Goodyear Airship Operations, said when the company was working with Germany’s airship builder, Zeppelin, on the cockpit design for its three new airships seven years ago, long-term choices had to be made, or pay the price later.
Goodyear, which uses its semi-rigid airships to provide TV coverage above sports events and to travel the country promoting the company brand, knew it had to install ADS-B Out for the 2020 mandate because of where it flies, but it had to take a gamble that ADS-B In would be worth the extra investment. “Once we build an airship, it’s really difficult to go back and change the certification for a major modification on the avionics,” said Dougherty. “So we wanted to make sure all the tools that we thought we would need down the road would be included at the start.” ADS-B In was one of those tools, and it has paid off already.
Goodyear’s three Zeppelin NT airships, one each based in Southern California, Florida, and Akron, Ohio, provide TV coverage for events throughout the country. When traveling between venues and occasionally going back to Akron for maintenance, the airships often transition through very busy airspace at low altitudes.
When traveling to events in the New York City area, the airships might fly up and down the hectic Hudson River corridor, or for games in Los Angeles, the busy low-altitude VFR helicopter routes that allow general aviation traffic to navigate across the city without disrupting commercial traffic. “We can be flying the corridor with four helicopters and an aircraft towing a banner,” said Dougherty. “ADS-B is a check and balance on the pilot’s eyes being outside the cockpit and the possibility that air traffic controllers may be too busy to call out traffic.”
As with other ADS-B In users, the 13 Goodyear pilots (Dougherty as chief pilot and four pilots at each regional location) give high marks to the aural alerting features that avionics or software providers typically include with ADS-B In applications. “It alerts you when you have a lot of other things going on, which we often do,” said Dougherty. “We can fly single-pilot TV events where we have a pilot in the cockpit and a camera operator in the back of the gondola.” Communications is complicated. Dougherty said pilots sometimes have to sort out simultaneous directions from the TV director (on the ground), the camera operator at the back of the gondola, and air traffic control.