The owners of approximately 150,000 general aviation aircraft that will be required to install automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) avionics in their aircraft by Jan. 1, 2020, to keep flying are seeing a surge in new products available to meet the mandate. The increase in competition from new vendor entrants and products –- most notably L-3 with its new Lynx line of ADS-B units -- is expected to drive costs down for owners who are beginning to accept the FAA’s assurance that the deadline will not be extended. “The mandate is firm,” said John Duncan, FAA’s director of Flight Standards Service, speaking to a group of aircraft owners at the AirVenture 2014 exhibition in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on July 29.

The FAA has already completed the rollout of the ground portion of the ADS-B network, which along with delivering aircraft surveillance information to air traffic controllers via the ADS-B “out” avionics, provides free weather and traffic information to pilots who equip with ADS-B “in” avionics. In general, aircraft flying below 18,000 ft. can use a Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) along with their existing Mode C transponder to meet the mandate, while aircraft flying above 18,000 ft. must equip with a Mode S extended squitter transponder, which replaces the legacy Mode C transponder. ADS-B “out” broadcasts position information from WAAS GPS along with aircraft identification and other data to other aircraft and to air traffic control through the ADS-B ground infrastructure, installed and operated by Exelis.

One down side of the Mode S is that the free weather information is not available through ADS-B “in”, leading to options for purchasing the UAT capability in a so-called “dual band” unit that is more expensive. About 6,000 operators have equipped their aircraft with FAA-compliant ADS-B units since the avionics first became available in 2012, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. A great many more pilots however have purchased low-cost, non-certified portable ADS-B “in” systems to bring weather and traffic into the cockpit.

A growing number of avionics companies are seeking to access the latent demand the mandate will drive. L-3 announced at AirVenture a new family of four ADS-B units that will start as low as $2,000 for an ADS-B “out” with integrated WAAS GPS. By integrating WAAS into the unit, L-3 is avoiding what has proven to be a problem in many ADS-B installations the FAA has noted to date –- problems with the wiring between an aircraft’s existing WAAS GPS and the newly installed ADS-B “out” system. The high end Lynx system, to be called the NGT 9000, will include dual band operations with ADS-B “out” and “in”, Wi-Fi connectivity to an iPad or tablet, as well as a dedicated display. L-3 has not announced prices for the units, which the company says are in the final phases of testing and will be available in late 2014. L-3 subsidiary ACSS builds ADS-B systems for the business aviation and air transport market, with certified systems already flying on the Bombardier Q400 and ATR family of turboprops, as well as on Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

L-3’s relatively low cost for baseline ADS-B “out” capability could put pressure on other avionics makers to follow suit. “The cost pressure is on for this line of products,” says John Uczekaj, president and CEO of Aspen Avionics. “How low the prices go will depend on what people are willing to pay. It’s difficult to guess how low it will go, but people that will benefit will be the consumer.”

Aspen’s ADS-B family ranges in price from $1,600 to $5,000. The lowest cost unit is a UAT ADS-B “out” without WAAS GPS. With WAAS GPS included, the UAT unit sells for $2,400. Other avionics makers polled at AirVenture had slightly higher prices, although the final pricing varies depending on options and capabilities. Freeflight Systems charges $4,000 for its UAT ADS-B “out” and “in” system, but that includes wireless capability to show weather and traffic on an iPad. Garmin sells a similar unit for roughly the same price, neither of which include installation times. Freeflight says the installation generally takes 25-35 hours, or $2,000-$3,000 based on the typical $85 per hour fee charged by maintenance shops.

“What’s holding the process up is aircraft owners understanding what is needed,” says Uczekaj. “We do see people starting to buy, and that will accelerate over the next 12 months as they really understand what they want and pull the trigger.”

--John Croft, john.croft@aviationweek.com