Avionics: Here’s to a little LPSE in your AirVenture


Low Power Surveillance Equipment, aka LPSE, is an acronym I hadn’t come across until tuning in to a congressional House Small Business Committee hearing on June 11. 

The topic was ADS-B, and for three of the five entities testifying -– FAA, Free Flight Systems and the Aircraft Electronics Association -– were using the podium to hammer general aviation pilots for not signing up to pay upwards of $10,000 for ADS-B “out” avionics six years before the mandate comes due. Their basic gist was that if GA waits, prices will actually rise and shops will be too busy to install your equipment, which means you will be grounded for some period in the Winter of 2020. 

ADS-B out is the FAA’s answer to next-generation non-radar surveillance primarily in areas where Mode C transponders are required today. The system does its job by inserting WAAS-GPS position and other identification data into the data stream of a Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) or Mode S Extended Squitter transponder. ATC receives the data stream and viola, aircraft surveillance. For GA pilots, the real value comes when you bring ADS-B "out" into your aircraft with ADS-B "In" avionics, providing free traffic, weather and other services. Pictured above is traffic I receive with a $700 Garmin GDL 39, uncertified of course, displayed on an iPad. 

Tim Taylor, president and CEO of Freeflight Systems, a maker of FAA-approved ADS-B avionics, told lawmakers only 4,000 GA aircraft out of an estimated 150,000 that will be impacted by the upcoming ADS-B mandate have equipped to date. “With approximately 2,000 days between now and January 1, 2020, we need to equip 60 to 70 aircraft per day—including weekends and holidays—or  85 to 100 aircraft per work day.” Simple in concept, it gets expensive figuring out who needs what, and making modifications to suit. Free Flight says the equipment might cost $4,000 and the installation another $2,000-$4,000 for the certified aircraft market.

Then Taylor used the (apparently) dirty word – LPSE.

“There are some well-intentioned initiatives like ‘Low Power Surveillance Equipment’ that are designed to provide equipage options for aircraft like gliders with special needs,” he said. “The general population sees this as an opening of the door to lower standards—and equipage will slow down while they wait to see how that plays out.” He urged FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, sitting at the table, that FAA “should consider such options where appropriate, but FAA also needs to clearly articulate that this is a limited exception and the fundamental requirements will stay in place.”

The LPSE movement was born from a near disaster -– a 2006 collision between a Hawker 800XP and a Schleicher AS 27-182 glider near Smith, Nevada. There were only minor injuries, but the NTSB recommended that the FAA require all gliders to have altitude encoding transponders. The glider community said it wanted a low-cost option, and the FAA agreed to write a TSO (Draft TSO-C199) for such a device. 

Draft C199 says it all in a nutshell: "TSO-199 is intended to increase safety within the National Air Space by encouraging the voluntary equipage of a low cost, compact, easy to install device that will allow other aircraft equipped with collision avoidance systems and traffic advisory systems to track and display the LPSE aircraft. LPSE devices are intended to be used on aircraft that are exempted from carrying a transponder or Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) equipment per 14 CFR § 91.215 and § 91.225, such as gliders, balloons and aircraft without electrical systems."

The question is, if LPSE is good enough for gliders and is cheaper, why not see if the technology is just as applicable to powered aircraft for ADS-B out? If it can indeed work and is significantly cheaper, LPSE could be the linchpin that gets us GA guys off the couch and into the shop to put down money for ADS-B well ahead of the mandate.

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