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Avionics Industry Sets Table for Helicopter ADS-B

The avionics industry has created a multitude of certified options for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) compliance just as the FAA has cleared red tape on installation of such mandated gear.

By 2020, all Part 27 and Part 29 rotorcraft flying in the U.S. must be equipped with DO-260B ADS-B compliant transponders and GPS receivers. Owners and operators have experienced a lack of variety and affordability of such gear, as well as regulatory hurdles to ADS-B installations.

Now, it appears these difficulties largely have been overcome. A new FAA policy removes red tape that had delayed installations and increased their costs, while avionics makers have released major approved model list (AML) supplemental type certificates (STCs) at competitive prices.

More than a year ago, the FAA initiated quarterly government-industry meetings of the Equip 2020 group to resolve ADS-B-related equipage concerns. One result was a policy update, AFS-360 2016-03-02, issued March 2. It and associated changes to the FAA’s Flight Standards Service inspector’s job aid now allow compliant ADS-B Out installations to be OK’d using the field approval process.

An Airbus Helicopters AS350 flies the ADS-B Out flight test profile with a KT-74 transponder and KGX 150 WAAS receiver.Graphic courtesy of Peregrine

Bill Stone, senior business development manager for Garmin, is a member of the Equip 2020 steering committee. He co-authored the new policy, a major goal of which was to correct an error in the regulation of ADS-B installations.

“Previously all ADS-B installations had to be done by supplemental type certificate, and that is a very costly and time-consuming process,” said Stone. “Once the equipment has been proven to meet all the regulatory requirements for ADS-B, it is really unnecessary to have to do a STC for each make and model of aircraft.”

With the update, installers can reference data from previous STCs and install new equipment on a different aircraft. The FAA’s ADS-B Focus Team also is drafting a technical paper to provide additional guidance in support of new ADS-B policy. Overall, the agency has streamlined the type-design approval of ADS-B Out installations. Its Rotorcraft Directorate notes the number of rotorcraft ADS-B STCs has increased over the last year.

Garmin GTX 330Photo courtesy of Garmin

To further support operators, the directorate said, the FAA launched the Equip ADS-B website to serve as a one-stop information source for operators to get a list of FAA-certified ADS-B equipment, a clear explanation of the specific airspace in which ADS-B will be required and answers to frequently asked questions regarding the new policy and the new approach to ADS-B compliance.

Competition among avionics manufacturers for ADS-B upgrades has increased the number of options available to operators of Part 27 and 29 helicopters. Through the first six months of 2016, four different companies have released new ADS-B hardware and software featuring capabilities beyond broadcasting aerial location.

L-3, for example, released its Lynx NGT-9000 in February with an AML STC. It combines a touchscreen ADS-B transponder with a display for viewing ADS-B traffic and weather data inside a panel-mounted unit. The NGT-9000 also requires no external GPS connections, L-3 said, and features a position source, annunciators and an interface mechanism in one box. Those components normally would be separated.

BendixKing KT 74Photo courtesy of Bendixking

Competitors Freeflight Systems and Garmin have similar options.

New products range in cost from the most basic ADS-B Out version of Freeflight’s RANGR FDL-978-RX (at $1,995) to the NGT-9000 (at $5,490) and Garmin’s new GDL 84H and GDL 88H with Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and Flight Stream 110 (at $5,995).

Operators, such as Air Methods, are responding to new options and the more open, less expensive FAA policy by upgrading their helicopters. Air Methods is using the avionics systems engineering and integrations company Peregrine (based at Denver’s Centennial Airport) to obtain an STC for ADS-B installations across its fleet.

The Air Methods/Peregrine effort is an example of how the FAA’s new policy is taking effect out in the marketplace.

“The first ADS-B Out activity for Air Methods used existing equipment: a Garmin GTX 330/33ES paired with the GNS 400W/500W-series or GTN 650/750-series WAAS receiver,” said T.J. Spitzmiller, Peregrine’s director of program management. The STC will cover the AgustaWestland A109E; the Airbus Helicopters AS350, EC130 and EC135, and Bell Helicopter’s 407. “Our model qualification process will allow for an approved AML expansion. Peregrine is negotiating with Air Methods to make the Part 27 STC available” to other operators.

Another consideration for operators are the data links. Outside the U.S., 1090 MHz ADS-B is required. In U.S. airspace, the FAA permits 978 MHz Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) ADS-B Out operations below 18,000 ft.

UAT “lends itself to a low weight and low power with physically robust packaging because it’s a new technology,” said Freeflight Systems CEO Tim Taylor, adding a 1090 MHz unit is a much older data link. “Whatever you do with it, it’s bigger and heavier, and is going to draw a lot of power. A UAT is something that is fresh and modern. It’s a modern data link. It’s like a cell phone data link.”

L-3 Lynx NGT-9000Photo courtesy of L-3

Other new options include one Peregrine developed for Trig Avionics for the Sikorsky S-76A/B/C using a TT22 transponder integrated with the Freeflight Systems 1201 WAAS GPS sensor.

That and STCs developed for Freeflight Systems, Air Methods and BendixKing “provide solutions that I think will be compatible with the majority of helicopters out there, whether it’s on the AML or otherwise approved,” said Peregrine President David Rankin.

Operators are upgrading U.S. aircraft (including fixed-wing ones and Part 27 and 29 helicopters) at about 1,000 airframes a month, according to VP Ric Peri of the Aircraft Electronics Assn. (AEA). Between the FAA policy’s latitude and new equipment available, the industry has everything in place to meet the 2020 deadline.

Many of the 10,000 helicopters in the U.S. have been equipped with ADS-B, including most Part 29 aircraft flying in the Gulf of Mexico and many flight school and EMS Part 27 helicopters, Peri said. Owners and operators who wait until 2019 to install ADS-B units probably will find maintenance shops can’t fit them in by the 2020 deadline.

“There’s no longer a lack of actual resources,” Peri said. “That issue has been resolved by the avionics market.” R&WI