General aviation pilots will flock to this year's air shows to seek ADS-B deals

FAA reiterates: The 2020 mandate is set in stone

Most buyers are also installing ADS-B In to get free traffic and weather

As the Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B equipage mandate draws near (T-minus 21 months and counting), general aviation (GA) pilots are betting that prices on the avionics are about as low as they will go. Despite a recent misleading report that the FAA would extend the equipage deadline (a certain April Fools' Day spoof that showed up April 1 on the web), there is no wiggle room.

FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell has stated it emphatically in recent months: "You have heard my predecessors say this before, and I will continue to communicate this important message: The ADS-B Out equipage mandate will not change."

Like many GA pilots, Ken Shaffer, an aircraft owner who has not yet equipped, believes the mandate is rock solid. He is heading to this year's Big Two air events — Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Florida, and EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin — with other local pilots from the Washington, D.C., area, many of whom are in search of ADS-B gold.

"I think this is the year where you'll see the best deals," Shaffer says. With his wife, he owns a 1969 Piper Comanche 260C and a 1954 Piper Pacer. At the air shows, Shaffer is particularly interested in checking into an innovative new ADS-B design — not yet FAA certified — that would take the place of a wingtip navigation light in the Pacer. "I don't think anything new will come out after AirVenture this year," Shaffer says. He's planning to do his ADS-B installations after AirVenture, giving himself at least a one-year buffer on the mandate in case shops are booked.

Ken Shaffer in his Piper Comanche

Ken Shaffer is heading to Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture this year in search of ADS-B deals for two aircraft that he and his wife own.

That commitment to equip is music to the ears of the FAA, which has been maximizing its outreach to aircraft owners, airports and aviation businesses for several years, in part through the Equip ADS-B website. In 2016, the FAA offered more than words with a $500 rebate offer that ended in early 2018. About 10,000 aircraft owners took the agency up on the deal to help defray the costs of buying and installing the equipment. ADS-B can range from about $2,000 to $5,000, not including installation.

To date, the FAA's outreach efforts have helped spur about 50,000 aircraft owners to equip, but that means as many as 70 percent may still need to equip by the deadline or be grounded (the 70 percent figure assumes about 160,000 aircraft must be equipped to continue flying in airspace that now requires Mode C transponders).

Along with ADS-B Out — which gives controllers an aircraft's precise position, velocity and other data once per second for surveillance purposes — most owners are also installing ADS-B In, which provides free traffic on the 1090 MHz and 978 MHz links and free weather information on the 978-megahertz link. Both can be shown on an installed or portable display.

Pilots who already have equipped are the best ADS-B In spokespersons. "When you're flying a small plane, you would think that you'd see all the planes around you," says John Theune, an early adopter of ADS-B in the Cessna 182 he owns with four other pilots in Maryland. "But I was amazed by when we installed the system how much more traffic there was in the sky that I had never seen."

One experience in particular crystallized the benefits for Theune. "I had a near miss about 10 years ago, before ADS-B," he said. "A plane came out of the wing shadow — I never saw it — and we came within 200 feet of colliding. That situation would never have occurred with ADS-B."

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