In all the years weve been covering avionics, no piece of technology has been more confusing, uncertain and changeable as ADS-B. While NextGen may be the epitome of force-fed government technology, youll eventually need to comply with an ADS-B mandate. The equipage mandate is still on schedule for the year 2020. Thats a long time given the rapidly changing nature of avionics. Buying equipment now is risky, yet the race for affordable ADS-B solutions has begun. Some are even introducing low-cost portable ADS-B products, an idea thats putting consumers at ease. Which low-cost products will withstand the scrutiny of the FAA and the test of time? We dont know. But here are some contenders.
In all the years weve been covering avionics, no piece of technology has been more confusing, uncertain and changeable as ADS-B. While NextGen may be the epitome of force-fed government technology, youll eventually need to comply with an ADS-B mandate.
The equipage mandate is still on schedule for the year 2020. Thats a long time given the rapidly changing nature of avionics. Buying equipment now is risky, yet the race for affordable ADS-B solutions has begun. Some are even introducing
low-cost portable ADS-B products, an idea thats putting consumers at ease.
Which low-cost products will withstand the scrutiny of the FAA and the test of time? We dont know. But here are some contenders.
Texas-based FreeFlight shows the most promise for a certified and compliant ADS-B solution, in our view. The company provide high-end GPS products to numerous markets (including aviation) and has ADS-B products expected to be TSOd by years end. The products are UAT-based, which is 978 MHz in and out for weather and traffic.
When we spoke with FreeFlights Jamie Luster, we sensed a dedication to bring to market products that meet the FAAs stringent specifications while ensuring the consumer buys a product that will go the uncertain ADS-B distance. FreeFlight openly admitted that low-end and non-certified products spawned from this process will be useful, but temporary solutions. They have a first-hand look at what it takes to meet the ADS-B TSO.
The FreeFlight product line consists of the RANGR 978MHz-series of datalink systems. The RANGR line offers several reasonably low-cost, lightweight solutions for becoming ADS-B compliant and adding datalink traffic and weather to the cockpit. FreeFlight told us their RANGR 978MHz solution will be fully ADS-B compliant, will meet the requirements of the mandate, can be installed easily with an STC provided by FreeFlight Systems and offers both datalink and traffic benefits with the transceiver models. Further, they offer an “E” version of the RANGR product for the experimental market designed for upgrade to a fully-TSOd version. While the experimental market has always enjoyed a certain freedom to do what they please with their own aircraft, its doubtful the FAA will treat them differently when it comes to operating in the NextGen environment.
The proposed RANGR product is available with or without an integral WAAS GPS and can be saddled up with remote receivers through ARINC and Serial data. The units are diversity-capable for connecting with top and bottom L-Band antennas.
Prices vary across the line, so reference the chart on page 17. Also note that UAT
products are only for aircraft that fly below 18,000 feet-at least for ADS-B out compliance.
Scotland-based Trig Avionics (with products sold through an established U.S. dealer network) is focused on low-cost 1090ES transponder solutions as well as ADS-B transceivers. These products are aimed toward LSA, experimentals and aircraft with limited electrical systems, but are certified to TSO C166B standards.
For ADS-B output transponders, the TA60 family consists of three models with liberal traffic duties being the primary focus: the TA62, intended for basic VFR operations; the TA63, which should meet the needs of most GA airplanes; and the TA64, intended for jet operations. The TA60 series can display traffic on a wide range of cockpit displays, including Aspen, Avidyne, Garmin and most other ARINC 735 compatible displays. Traffic can also be displayed on compatible handheld displays (such as Garmin 496 and 696 series). Remember that these units use the ES ADS-B solution that cant offer FIS-B weather.
Trig has a new line of transponders that offer a fresh alternative to the same old boxes weve seen on the market for years. The TT21 and the TT22 are perhaps the smallest mode S transponders on the market with 1090ES ADS-B output. These models use two pieces: a control head thats installed in the panel and a remote transceiver. An altitude encoder is built in to the controller-a bold and welcome move. The controller uses an LCD screen and squawk code, and Flight ID input duties uses a conventional rotary knob. We eyed these transponders and found them built to rugged standards. The controllers are even splash-proof for water ops and open cockpits.
The TT31 is a conventional rack-mounted Mode S transponder thats plug and rack compatible with the popular Bendix/King KT76A. The TT31 is electrically efficient, using as little as half the bus power of most modern Mode S units despite a fully backlit display and transmitting at 240 watts. A software upgrade (expected by
the end of the year) and a connection to an appropriate GPS will make the TT31 ADS-B out compliant. Pricing is still being finalized.
There are three ADS-B products in the NavWorx Product line, including a portable system. While not TSO-certified, the units offer a low cost option right now.
The $1495 ADS-600 is a remote UAT that interfaces with panel-mount displays for displaying TIS-B traffic and FIS-B weather data. An optional ARINC429 interface allows the 600 to play on Garmin 430 and 530 navigators. The ADS-600 is strictly a receiver so youll need ADS-B output, or step up to the $2495 ADS-600B which is a Non-TSO transmitter and receiver.
The PADS-600 is the portable unit with integral GPS and it has a Bluetooth interface for communicating with PDAs and tablets. It also has Serial output for talking with a variety of portable GPS navigators from Garmin. The PADS-600 is designed to Velcro on top of the aircraft glareshield and has an antenna thats mounted to the side of the unit.
NavWorx has an impressively liberal display compatibility including interfaces with the G1000, G500/600, GNS430 and 530, GMX200, GPS396/496/596 portables, Aspen PFD/MFD, as well as a variety of experimental-based systems. We think coupling a UAT ADS-B in solution like NavWorx with a transponder-based ADS-B out system will be a popular (and cost-effective) choice in the long haul.
If youre anxious to play in the ADS-B environment, any of these low cost solutions can get you there, with limitations from model to model.
As for dealing with the mandate, were still not budging in our advice to sit tight. A lot can happen both technologically and regulatory in 10 years. What you buy today might not be what you need tomorrow.
For avionics retrofits that need transponder upgrades now, investing in a 1090ES model could offer a baby step to NextGen. Trigs offerings do just that. Of course, theres also the ADS-B out-enabled Garmin GTX330ES, for $5995.
We think NavWorx offers the least expensive path to a full-up system that can display on a variety of cockpit screens. Shops will need to proceed with caution when mixing non-certified and portable equipment with fully certified panel-mounted gear.
When it comes to the full-up certified solution, we think FreeFlight is the company to watch as they aggressively push for full certification and TSO compliance. For those who fly in Class A airspace and want FIS-B weather, theres no good single solution yet, but a portable FIS-B and a panel-mount TIS-B solution could be the ticket.
As we see how these options play out in the real world, well report back.