A new FAA rule requires that most private and commercial aircraft must install global positioning devices – at a cost of $10,000 per plane – to transmit their position and speed to air traffic controllers and each other to help avoid deadly mid-air and runway collisions.
But not until Jan. 1, 2020.
And gliders – which accounted for at least 31 of the collision close-calls reported to FAA in 2008 – aren’t covered by the new rule.
Air safety advocates, including the National Transportation Safety Board, former commercial airline pilots and glider enthusiasts, have recommended for years that the FAA require gliders to carry such positioning equipment.
But the FAA has never done it.
The new rule is part of the agency’s Next Gen program to replace 300 radar stations with a satellite-based GPS system in order to reduce air traffic congestion, lower fuel consumption and improve safety.
Sometimes, it seems even the FAA doesn’t know what it’s rule covers.
After initially stating that the new rule “applies to all aircraft in controlled airspace, so it would include gliders,” FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto backtracked when The Examiner pointed out that FAA’s website says otherwise:
“The ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance –Broadcast) rule does not apply to any aircraft that was not originally certificated with an electrical system… including balloons and gliders.”
“Gliders operate in Class E airspace, at low altitude in very remote areas and only occasionally skirt the limits of controlled airspace,” Takemoto said. “They’re not required by the rule to install a system they don’t need and would have a hard time installing.”
That’s debatable. FAA’s “glider waiver” remains intact even though nine people have died in mid-air collisions between gliders and motorized aircraft. That’s why the NTSB has repeatedly recommended to FAA that gliders be required to carry positioning equipment to alert other pilots in their vicinity of their presence.
NTSB investigators have determined that most mid-air collisions occur in daylight hours at altitudes below 1,000 feet, with at least three miles of visibility, and at or near airports without air traffic control. So FAA’s continuing failure to create certification standards for the low-cost, battery-powered ADS-B UAT Beacon Radio for glider and general aviation pilots remains inexplicable.
Developed by McLean-based Mitre Corporation, the miniaturized transceiver utilizes off-the-shelf, consumer-grade GPS and cell phone technology to alert pilots to other aircraft up to 80 nautical miles away – including gliders, hot air balloons, and even skydivers.
Originally designed for unmanned aircraft, it would also allow pilots to use an iPhone to uplink weather data. The transceiver is portable, can run for 24 hours on four AA batteries, and would cost less than $1,000 – eliminating all excuses or not carrying installing the devices in gliders.
In what may be a concession to these facts, however, The Examiner has learned that FAA plans to flight test the Mitre device.
“Mitre and the FAA are planning to flight test this technology in the D.C. area this summer in conjunction with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Soaring Society of America to demonstrate its potential to improve the situational awareness for General Aviation pilots,” says Minnesota glider pilot Mike Schumann, who has been pushing the FAA for certification for more than a year.
“If we can get the green light for commercialization, you will see ADS-B equipment widely available for the GA market in the same price range as currently available Portable Collision Avoidance System units, with much better performance, accuracy and functionality.”
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner’s local opinion editor.